Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Directed by: Pierre Coffin (debut) and Chris Renaud (debut)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and Cinco Paul (“Horton Hears a Who!”)
While the cuteness factor is at an all-time high in the new animated feature film “Despicable Me,” the elimination of any real conflict between characters is bothersome. Sure, a collection of likeable toons can offer a gleeful experience especially to those of a certain age, but important as it is to have someone to cheer for, it’s also kind of fun to have someone to root against. In “Despicable Me,” everyone is either just so gosh darn adorable or wacky, you might as well be watching an episode of the “Teletubbies.”
The happy-go-luckiness begins with the yellow, scene-stealing, Twinkie-shaped characters known as the minions, who will probably grace every lunchbox and backpack once the new school year starts up next month. The minions, who take on the same type of role as the claw-loving, squeeze-toy aliens in the “Toy Story” franchise, work for the darkly sophisticated Gru (Steve Carell), a supervillain who cuts in line at the coffee shop and hogs the road while driving his oversized, jet-powered vehicle.
When Gru finds out another supervillain known as Vector (Jason Segel) is outworking him by successfully executing high-profile crimes (his latest is stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza), Gru decides he will not settle for being second best. His plan: to steal the moon, a plan that first requires him to get his hands on a shrink ray gun retained by Vector so he can simply pluck a miniature moon right from the sky.
To do so, Gru adopts a trio of orphans – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnus (Elsie Fisher) – to infiltrate Vector’s lair by peddling cookies at his front door. In return, the girls, who make up a major portion of the good-natured spirit of the animation, show Gru that being a supervillain doesn’t mean he can’t also be a loving dad.
And so goes Gru’s transformation from a coldhearted evildoer to compassionate father figure. It’s part of the basic and mostly cliché script by “Horton Hears a Who!” screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Aside from Carell’s awkwardly inconsistent voice work as Gru, most of the character’s problems come during his transition from baddie to daddy. “Despicable Me” digs for some sentimentality, but ultimately comes up short.
Left to fill space: the minions, who are bound to be a crowd favorite by the end of the summer. They scuttle, chatter incoherently, and earn their laughs mostly when getting bopped in the head or knocked to the ground. “Despicable Me” deserves a chuckle or two here and there, but the safety net it seems to be working over gets in the way of producing any authentic animated dramedy not found on Nickelodeon.