Actor/comedian W.C. Fields (THE BANK DICK) once observed that “anyone who hates dogs and small children can’t be all bad.” He would have appreciated the underachieving villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) who takes in three little orphan girls as a means to snatch a “shrink ray” device from his chief rival (voiced by Jason Segel) in a wacky plot to steal the moon. In a non-serious movie in which a grouchy, childless guy finds himself stuck with kids, you know that by the conclusion he’ll have bonded with the little tykes and realize “what’s really important in life.” All that matters is whether reaching that outcome is an enjoyable process. Here, it is by mixing liberal doses of subtle adult and kid-friendly humor with just the right amount of genuine heart that avoids being cheaply sentimental or overly sugary. Much of the comedy comes from the chattering little yellow “Minions” that make up Gru’s unlikely assistants and includes a clever jab during the closing credits directed at the current 3-D craze (See critic’s note.). Visually, the aerial and roller coaster sequences show meticulous attention to detail in the same mode as the best of Japanese animation. The interior settings are highly imaginative and feature sight gags like the giant Panda bear rug in Gru’s den as well as the ominously towering Bank of Evil, formerly Lehman Brothers. Is it just me or are the only decent movies out this summer all animated? (I don’t want to leave out last spring’s HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON either.) Is it because they have storylines and visual content appealing to both adults and children? Is it because animators are permitted freer rein to allow their personal imagination to be expressed more in line with their actual vision on film rather than their live action counterparts? As a matter of fact, they do. CRITIC’S GRADE: B
CRITIC’S NOTE: With the exception of AVATAR (2009), I’ve yet to see any movie utilizing 3-D technology that actually enhanced the visual clarity more than seeing it in a regular two-dimensional format. But the huge box office receipts generated by the James Cameron epic from 3-D sales has stoked renewed interest in the ‘50s-born technology from distributors who hurriedly added it to CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE LAST AIRBENDER and even TOY STORY 3. The common thread is that they, and others like them in the past and future, didn’t and won’t need it since 3-D has never made a bad film good or a good film better.