The tone is set early on as Gru inflates an elaborate balloon animal, hands it to a small child then pops it with a pin. This grouchiness and all-round objection to any kind of fun stems, it turns out, from growing up with a mother (Julie Andrews) who refuses to give him any encouragement or affection. When new bad guy Vector (Jason Segal) arrives on the scene by stealing one of Egypt's pyramid, Gru hatches a plan to make himself top dog again. As a way to infiltrate Vector's home and pinch his shrink ray, he adopts three orphans - Margo, Edith and Agnes - and sends them around to plant robotically-modified cookies to help complete the theft. Naturally, the arrival of the girls shakes him up and he starts to see that there's more to life than inflicting misery on others.
There's a surprising amount of wit and visual invention on display in Despicable Me. The smooth lines and plump character designs (this movie provides welcome relief from talking animals) lend a warm and appealing feel. This works well with the story as, like classic fictional miserablist Ebenezer Scrooge, Gru finds himself learning about the value of love, family and friendship. As expected, there are a few gags littered around for grown-ups, notably an overt nod to The Godfather's 'horse's head in a bed' scene and referencing the Bank of Evil - which finances nefarious supervillain deeds - as "formerly Lehman Brothers".
Despicable Me just about finds the right balance between heart, humour and whizzbang 3D spectacle. It is, though, entirely predictable and won't offer many narrative surprises to those who've sat through a few animated adventures in the past. Nevertheless, there's fun to be had here and several laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of Carell's comical vocal delivery (he sounds like a Roger Moore-era Bond Eurovillain) and the character's frequent mishaps. On occasion, aspects of Carell's Office buffoon Michael Scott slip into Gru's expressions. The animation team and leading man appear to be in perfect sync, meaning that this is one instance where the toonmakers haven't succumbed to stunt casting (here's looking at you, Shark Tale!).
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