Rated: PG. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. 3 stars.
Being evil is serious business, and business is goooood for Gru. He's a feared and loathed rapscallion of the highest degree who's been responsible for some of the greatest heists in recent history. This ultra villain shares his spoils with his "Minions," squishy yellow critters that never challenge their nefarious master. But as for sharing with another person? Eh, who needs 'em?!
The animated film "Despicable Me" teaches that no man is an island — even if he's skilled at stealing entire landmasses. No, we all must open our hearts to others in order to really live, and therein lies the diabolical Gru's dilemma. Voiced by Steve Carell (in one of his most emphatic roles — cartoon or real life —), this sharp-nosed creep plots his biggest swindle yet — to take the moon for himself — all while battling his spry nemesis and dealing with his precarious trio of adopted daughters.
Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul utilize their Seussian experience from the 2008 big-screen version of "Horton Hears a Who!" in this comedy with tender moments. Things may err on the side of hyperbole (landmarks like the Gaza pyramids get pilfered in a snap), but the movie's tether is a strong sense of heart.
Also a source of strength for "Despicable Me" is the vocal talent. Despite the star-studded roster, nothing reeks of stunt casting, as each a-list actor morphs his familiar tone and digs into the character. Carell puts on a flustered Eastern European lilt just right for the churlish Gru. Will Arnett revisits his gravely "30 Rock" voice as Mr. Perkins, the head of the evil bank that funds villainous activities (complete with a sly dig at Lehman Brothers). Julie Andrews gets in on the fun as Gru's cantankerous and unsupportive mother. Even otherwise despicable Russell Brand takes an interesting turn as Gru's aging partner in crime, Dr. Nefario.
This children's fare has much more going for it than simply good versus evil. It's about family pride and accomplishing our goals — and making all new ones as we grow as people. Though, the good versus evil is pretty fun. Gru has a rivalry with nerdy wunderkind Vector (Jason Segel) over a shrink ray vital to the plan to capture the moon. Younger and better funded, Vector foils his adversary with squid-shooting guns. Discovering his weakness (cookies), Gru hastily adopts three orphaned Girl Scouts and has them infiltrate Vector's compound. The tots, led by smarty Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), are repulsed by this Darth Vader-like dad, and Gru aims to be an absentee father, but predictably, this contentious group begins to bond.
The creative story and whiz-bang script are enough to make "Despicable Me" a wonderful summertime attraction. As for the 3-D effects? Leave those giant glasses aside. The extraneous dimension contributes nothing to the film, and actually cheapens it because the eye-popping scenes look like rush jobs. Yes, you'll be clamoring to hug one of those Minions as it gurgles and jumps toward you, but it isn't worth the pumped-up price of admission. See it in 2-D to truly appreciate its uniqueness and positive message.