I will admit to being somewhat surprised at how much I actually enjoyed this. I had heard some good things, but also some mediocre things. I think this may fall somewhere in between.
Steve Carrell is supervillain Gru. He’s a supervillain of the old comic-book variety, stealing monuments and suchlike with all manner of supervillain weaponry and a secret lab hidden underneath his house. Carrell plays him with a thick stock Eastern European accent and it works a treat. It’s almost a novelty going to an animated film nowadays and not being able to visualise the actor voicing them. But the real chameleon of the voice cast is Russell Brand (he of the feathered hair and prancing about) as Gru’s hideously old lab assistant Dr. Nefario and he’s an absolute scene-stealer.
Gru’s in a bit of a rut, villainy-wise and it doesn’t help things when hip new villain Vector (Jason Segel) – an orange warm-up suit clad Steve Jobs/Bill Gates type - arrives on the scene outdoing Gru at every turn. In retaliation (and from a deep-seated childhood desire), Gru plots to steal the moon! But first he needs to steal back a shrink-ray from Vector, and in order to get inside his super-modern fortress Gru adopts three cookie selling girls.
From there, the plot is really all pretty predictable: Gru grows to care for the girls (the older intelligent responsible one, the moody middle one and the cute youngest one) as he tries to balance the needs of his villainous mission. There are even two entirely pointless “cool” and “funny” dance sequences, as is becoming horrifyingly obligatory for kids films these days. What really saves the film is it’s higher than average intelligence (there are a few very adult jokes. As in, banks and taxes adult), great design (with some ace visual gags, such as Gru’s trophies) and the not-so-secret weapon: the minions. They’re the super-cute worker’s in Gru’s lab, essentially cross-breeds of the Toy Story aliens and ReBoot binomes. They’re put to good use, helping to keep the film buoyant and act as punching bags/punchlines. Like true minions should.
It doesn’t near the heights of How to Train Your Dragon (the best non-Pixar animated film this year) but it certainly doesn’t fall flat. It falls somewhere between derivative and creative with more than enough to keep it interesting. This is a neat little world they’ve set up here. I just hope they don’t Shrek it.