If you are a parent and value you your sanity, I would not recommend taking your children to see Despicable Me. Not because Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment's first foray into the CGI animated kids film territory dominated by Pixar and Dreamworks is a bad movie. It's quite the opposite, actually. Despicable Me's greatest strength is that it is meticulously engineered to be quoted, reenacted, and re-purposed by children until adults can no longer endure the repetition. Sure, those of the legal guardian age will be able to appreciate the film as a clever, amusing-enough summer distraction, but it is teens and under who will milk the most out of every aspect of Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's feature film debut.
Steve Carell voices one of the world's most nefarious super-villains, Gru, who when faced with the competition of an upstart, digital-age villain named Vector (Jason Segel), devises a plan to regain the international crime spotlight by stealing the moon. The shrink ray required for such a celestial heist winds up in the hands of Vector, unfortunately, which then results in Gru scrambling for plan B: adopt a trio of orphaned girls who can, against their knowledge, exploit Vector's weakness for Girl Scout cookies.
That's about it, really. As far as plot goes, Despicable Me draws a straight line from conflict to resolution, but the direct nature of the script isn't too much of a problem given how much effort the creative team behind the film put into distracting the viewer from how linear the story is. These countermeasures start with Carell, whose ability to bestow guarded fragility to a digital character through voice alone further proves how versatile of an actor he is, but they certainly don't stop there. Each voice actor brings an embodiment to their role that transcends the typical perception of their real world personalities. Segel is appropriately nebbish as Vector, the always overcompensating nerd, but the surprising stand out here is Russell Brandas Dr. Nefario, Gru's best friend who also happens to be a diabolical engineer.
Brand's performance is barely detectable as the swaggering rock star most have come to know him as, which is a true treat for those who appreciate celebrity voice actors who let the character come first. Even the trio of child voice actors do a remarkable job of breathing life into thinly-defined roles, particularly little Elsie Fisher as the tiniest, and thus the most adorable, of the bunch, Agnes.
The joys of Despicable Me don't rest solely with the human characters, either. Gru's legion of loyal little minions steal the show at almost every turn; a true testament to how successful the animators at Illumination Entertainment are at breathing life into all of their characters. Even the art direction, which gives each object in this delightfully unrealistic world a discernible sense of purpose, is fantastic-- if you loved the look and playful spirit of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, odds are you'll also get a kick out of the rampant creativity on display here.
However, even given how top notch the animation is and how character-first all of the casting is, Despicable Me is still missing the one crucial ingredient that could elevate it to the Pixar-league of animated films: purpose. There's a reason that the best animation studio in the world became the best animation studio in the world. It's because the story comes first above all else. With Despicable Me, though, it becomes more and more apparent that story was often shaped around how to best deliver a visual gag or how to showcase a joke. This gives the film a very goal-specific mindset that results in plenty of well-timed laughs while also sacrificing the illusion of spontaneity that can make one forget that they're watching a film that is, by definition of its medium, totally artificial.
That inability to completely engross an adult into the story and characters is ultimately the only major choke point Despicable Me has. Kids who could not care less about how dynamic and predictable a film is will revel in it. They'll soak up every pitch perfect line delivery, every absurd gag and every calculated mannerism that defines their favorite character. And there's plenty of those to go around seeing as every size, shape and personality is represented here. In a lot of ways that makes Despicable Me an almost revoltingly perfect movie for kids. Maybe not their parents, who are hoping for an animated film that is as much for their children as it is for them, but to say a film is ideal for its target demographic if no one else is hardly a bad thing.