The Despicable Me Series
Despicable Me (February 17/14)
Lighthearted yet entirely forgettable, Despicable Me follows Steve Carell's Gru as he sets out to establish himself as the world's most diabolical supervillain by stealing no less than the moon - with his efforts consistently thwarted by an evil young upstart named Vector (Jason Segel). It's clear right from the get-go that Despicable Me has been unabashedly geared towards younger viewers, and although it remains quite watchable from start to finish, the film is generally unable to elevate itself to a level beyond cinematic elevator music. There's little doubt, too, that the movie fares especially poorly in its opening half hour, as filmmakers Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud place an initial emphasis on the central character's wacky, over-the-top exploits - which, though amusing, results in a lack of substance that's nothing short of palpable. It's not until Gru, as part of his scheme to defeat Vector, adopts three young girls that Despicable Me starts to become something more than just a mindless time-waster, with the movie's midsection, which primarily details the protagonist's growing attachment to the kids, boasting a comparatively subdued and sentimental feel that proves impossible to resist. (The low-key vibe doesn't last for long, however, as the film closes with a typically action-packed final stretch.) The end result is a typically broad effort from DreamWorks Animation that's at its best in its quieter moments, with Carell's stand-out voice work standing as a consistent highlight within the otherwise erratic proceedings.
Despicable Me 2 (March 20/14)
Steve Carell's Gru returns in a decent sequel that finds the former supervillain recruited by an organization known as the Anti-Villain League, with the movie detailing Gru's efforts at unmasking the identity of a nefarious baddie bent on world domination. Despicable Me 2 manages, for the most part, to fall right in line with its affable yet unspectacular predecessor, as the film, directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, boasts a compulsively watchable feel that's perpetuated by its bright, colorful visuals and army of pleasantly off-kilter characters - with Carell's standout work as the likeable protagonist standing as the movie's most appealing attribute. The propulsive narrative ensures that Despicable Me 2 fares surprisingly well in its opening half hour, although, by that same token, it's as clear as ever that the film has been geared primarily towards younger audiences. (The mere presence of the kid-friendly Minions is proof enough of that.) It's increasingly clear, however, that there's not quite enough story here to sustain a feature-length running time, as Coffin and Renaud, working from a script by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, struggle to keep the momentum going through the movie's almost episodic midsection. (There is, for example, a rather underwhelming subplot revolving around Gru's oldest daughter's flirtation with a local boy.) And although there are a few too many silly asides and over-the-top set pieces, Despicable Me 2 recovers for a surprisingly decent climactic stretch that is, by the standards of most contemporary animated fare, almost subdued in its execution - which ultimately cements the movie's place as a passable followup that's sure to amuse and entertain fans of the original.
Minions (June 27/16)
A prequel to the Despicable Me series, Minions follows three of the title characters (Stuart, Bob, and Kevin) as they become henchmen for a '60s supervillain named Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock). Before it gets to that point, however, Minions boasts an opening half hour detailing the impressively storied history of the loyal yet somewhat incompetent protagonists - with the tiny hired goons working for, among others, a fearsome T-Rex, several abominable snowmen, and Napoleon the Great. It's an engaging first act that's often as funny as it is entertaining, as filmmakers Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin effectively pepper this stretch (and the remainder of the proceedings) with a number of funny in-jokes and references - with many such moments, impressively enough, guaranteed to fly over the heads of younger viewers. The affable atmosphere persists even as the narrative proper slowly-but-surely begins to kick in, with Balda and Coffin's perpetually irreverent sensibilities going a long way towards keeping things interesting (and entertaining). It's clear, too, that the relatively short running time results in a general lack of lulls, while the typically larger-than-life finale, which is far from a surprise, fares better than one might've expected (ie it's not overwhelming in the way manner such third acts tend to be). Minions' total lack of emotional resonance ultimately prevents it from becoming much more than an affable, family-friendly diversion, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, really, given the proliferation of elements designed to appeal to viewers of all ages.