At the heart of "Despicable Me" is a villain who wants to be the baddest of the baddies.
He has all the latest technology, a fleet of loyal minions to fulfill his every command and a mad scientist in his employ. The only thing he doesn't have is money.
What's a poor villain to do?
That's the main conflict in the imaginative animated film, which follows Gru (voiced by Steve Carell in a throaty, vaguely Hungarian accent) as he tries to fulfill his plan of stealing the moon. That would make him the coolest villain ever, and he'd finally get the respect and recognition he deserves after a long and unsuccessful villain career.
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But in order to get a loan from the bank to carry out his costly evil plan, he must steal a "shrink ray" machine from another local baddie, Vector (voice of Jason Segel), a young villain on the fast track to dastardly stardom. His lair, though, is an impenetrable fortress.
Enter three little orphan girls on their rounds selling cookies. It turns out Vector has a sweet tooth, and they are allowed inside.
Gru then adopts the little girls with the hope of getting access to the shrink ray. They, of course, think he's adopting them because he loves them and wants to be their daddy, which he wants about as much as a Boy Scout badge.
Eventually, though, the girls stir something in Gru's dried-up heart, and he slowly becomes fond of them (it turns out he has mommy issues of his own). Pretty soon, he's spending so much time with the girls that it's affecting his work. What's a modern parent bent on destroying the world supposed to do?
The tale is told warmly, and "Despicable Me" eventually finds its heart without being too schmaltzy. Kids will surely find much to enjoy, and adults will find it amusing.
Sometimes it's downright hilarious, in many scenes with Gru's minions, which are creatures that look like little yellow corn dogs. They worship Gru wholeheartedly, and each has its own personality.
A particular scene with Gru and a couple of minions breaking into Vector's lair is a riot (it turns out the creatures are glow sticks, too).
Eventually, danger ensues as Vector kidnaps the little girls. And Gru must make the ultimate decision: Carry on with his plan to steal the moon or go to the girls' much-prepared-for dance recital. Decisions, decisions.
Things are tidied up nicely enough, and kids won't be disappointed. Adults may see it all coming, but the film has such good-natured, harmless intentions, we don't care.
It is refreshing, though, to have the villain as the focus. Gru's transformation from failed evil burnout to proud papa is charming.
The visuals are fantastic, by the way, and the film's design striking in 3-D.
For its first animated offering, Universal offers a good counterpart to Pixar films. While "Despicable Me" might lack the same magic, it certainly offers its own brand of fun.
Rating: PG for rude humor and mild action
Starring: Voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Julie Andrews, Kristin Wiig
Directed by: Pierre Coffin and
Showing at: Chisholm Trail 8 (Newton), Northrock 14, Derby Plaza, Warren Theatre (east and west)