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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Despicable Me centers around a supervillain (voiced by Steve Carell) who adopts three girls for the sole purpose of infiltrating his nemesis' house. Yes, you can expect mild insults like "stupid" and "poop" and a lot of action sequences involving high-tech weapons that blast things to smithereens, as well as some scenes that imply injury -- although no one is ever killed or seriously injured. But the most potentially disturbing aspect of the movie is the way that adoption is depicted -- at least at first. Families with adopted children may feel extra-sensitive about the way that orphans, orphanage directors, and the entire adoption process is handled. It's all played for laughs, yes, but some of it feels a little grim. Still, the movie's overall message is that even someone considered "evil" can have a change of heart, and that's a good lesson, considering that most movies portray good and evil as absolutes. (Note: The movie is being shown in 3-D in some theaters, which could make certain portions more intense for young viewers.)
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What's the story?
In DESPICABLE ME, supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has made a name for himself stealing things like the Times Square JumboTron and the Statue of Liberty, but he's being outshone by Vector (Jason Segel), a younger villain who stole the Egyptian pyramids. In an attempt to out-do Vector, Gru asks the Bank of Evil to bankroll his mission to steal the moon. When Vector grabs a shrink ray Gru needs for his scheme, he decides to adopt to three young orphans -- Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) -- who have access to Vector's heavily guarded lair thanks to their part-time job selling cookies. But once the girls are in his care, Gru has to learn how to parent the orphans that he initially only adopted for selfish reasons. Eventually, he must decide between his mission and his role as a hesitant new father-figure to three sweet little girls.
Is it any good?
Carell as Gru may be the draw for this movie, and he does a wonderful job -- as always -- with his voice acting; but it's the girls who are the most impressive. They know exactly how to convey hurt, disappointment, joy, and wonder -- not an easy task for young actors. Segel's Vector is that fabulous combination of super nerdy and super arrogant, exactly the sort of villain (and person) who would rankle an old-school villain like Gru. It's easy to root for Gru when his nemesis is such a jerk. The movie also features a wonderfully catchy and unique soundtrack by hip-hop performer/producer Pharrell Williams, and, to its credit, the 3-D is actually enjoyable, as opposed to irritating. Will Gru rank among the greatest villains of all time? No, because in the end, he's actually got a heart -- and a large one at that.
The best movie villains gleefully chew up the scenery, either because they're so creepily eeeevil (Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Voldemort), or because they're larger than life (the Terminator, Cruella de Vil, the Wicked Witch of the West). So it's a unique twist to see an animated movie that focuses on the villain. He doesn't turn hero overnight, but he's not a one-dimensional tyrant, either. He's got mommy issues (his mom, played by Julie Andrews, is the stereotypically overlycritical mother who's never pleased with her son's accomplishments), he's older and not as "bankable" as he used to be, and he really needs a buzzed-about scheme to go his way. Enter the three little orphans, the youngest of whom (Agnes) is so irresistably adorable she's like a human Puss 'N Boots.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that Despicable Me centers around a "villain" instead of a "hero." Is that typical? How does Gru change over the course of the movie? What happens that affects his attitude?
How are orphans depicted in the movie? What about orphanages? Do you think that's how orphans must be treated/feel? Name some other famous orphans in movies and books.
How does the cartoon action in this movie compare to others you've seen? Does this kind of media violence have more or less impact than what's in live-action movies? Why?
- In theaters: July 9, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: December 14, 2010
- Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Carell
- Directors: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor and mild action
- Last updated: November 15, 2019
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