Gru (Steve Carell) rotagonist of this good-natured 3D CGI ’toon, is a master-villain out to steal the moon. Though slimmer and beakier, he’s close to Grimly Feendish, a Brit comic great (“The Rottenist Crook In The World”) created by Leo Baxendale in 1964. Like Grimly, he is bald, has a long black coat and stary eyes, rubs his hands in malevolent glee, is more ambitious than ept, relies on minions who let him down, and enjoys petty wickedness as much as grand Blofeldian schemes.
Grimly and Gru resemble Charles Addams’ Uncle Fester and are parodies of pre-Crisis Lex Luthor — when Superman’s arch-enemy was a pudgy scientist, not a crooked tycoon (if you get this, you pass through the Gate Of Geek Wisdom to join the Hallowed Masters Of Comics Trivia, aka Empire Online). Even unranked US comic characters get big-budget films — seriously, Jonah Hex and the Green Hornet, ha! — yet Brit comic meisterwerke don’t get a look-in (bar St. Trinian’s). But if we can’t have a big-budget Grimly Feendish, Despicable Me is more than sufficient. It’s, you know, for kids… but grown-ups will find they won’t experience the drill-through-the-skull effect caused by Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel or Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back.
Though it covers the evil side of things rather than super-heroics, it also descends from The Incredibles. Oddly, Gru’s world — which includes a mad Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), his uncaring mother (Julie Andrews!) and cloned yellow, nuggety minions (Toy Story aliens meet Fantastic Four’s Moloids, with a mass persona) — is unguarded by heroes, so his rival is a villain, Vector (Jason Segel), with an unethical inside track to the Bank Of Evil. The film keeps up the inventive sight gags, often using 3D to amp them up, but finally gets emotional when Gru takes three orphans — sceptical Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), enthusiastic Edith (Dana Gaier) and unicorn-loving Agnes (Elsie Fisher) — into his lair as part of his Grand Evil Plan.
In a story which almost writes itself, Gru is terse and manipulative but warms to the girls and is soon torn between his moon-stealing and their ballet recital. Cinema used to bungle cute orphans, but this trio are truly appealing. The process of Gru becoming a parent allows for hilarity and surprising poignancy. Naturally, there’s a trip into space and a spectacular near disaster, but it’s the heart which makes Despicable Me effective.