Tag Archives: universal

Despicable Me (2010)

This is a movie that caught me completely off-guard; I didn’t see it in theaters because I didn’t expect much from it, but, after finally seeing it, it has now become one of those movies that I never tire of.

Despicable Me tells the story of Gru (Steve Carell), a middle-aged villain whose despicable crimes (such as stealing the miniature Statue of Liberty from Las Vegas) pale in comparison to the newest villain on the block, Vector (Jason Segel), who recently stole a pyramid from Egypt. Not to be outdone, Gru, along with the help of his fun-loving “Minions” and assistant, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), devises a plot to pull off the “crime of the century”: stealing the moon itself. Along the way, he adopts a trio of orphan sisters in order to gain access to Vector’s heavily-fortified home, but he’s in for a surprise when he realizes that these children may be more important than simply being unknowing accomplices in his evil scheme…they may just change his life.

The voice acting in this film is superb on all accounts. Carell as Gru is hysterical, with his strange foreign accent providing lots of fun lines to imitate with friends, and Segel as the competing villain Vector brings plenty of laughs as well…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shouted his “oh yeah!” when around friends! Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother is an unexpected delight as Gru’s cruelly indifferent mother, and Russell Brand’s voice transformation from a higher tenor to a gruff elderly baritone as Dr. Nefario is unrecognizable. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment in the voice acting department, however, is in the talent from the three girls: the impossibly adorable Agnes (Elsie Fisher), the rebellious Edith (Dana Gaier), and the critical eldest child Margo (Miranda Cosgrove). In the presence of much more experienced actors, these three never miss a beat in matching their older colleagues step for step. The directors have guided them wonderfully.

One aspect of this movie that particularly surprised me was its heart; the growth of Gru as a character throughout the film is heartwarming and well-developed. At no point does it ever feel rushed or forced, with his transition feeling very natural and genuine. As likable as Gru is as a villain, his role as father to Agnes, Edith, and Margo makes him even more lovable, and the fact that his “evil” plot to steal the moon is just the result of a long-time dream to visit space brings an interesting twist to the characterization. The humor in the film is also well-done; with every re-watch, I never tire of the jokes, which seem to never stale or grow old. The Minions add quite a bit to this humor, with their tendency for slapstick comedy and inappropriate jokes appealing equally to kids and to adults, or at least to me as a young adult in his early twenties.

As I mentioned before, I was totally surprised by how much I loved this film. The script is smart and the dialogue is endlessly quotable, and it has become one of the few movies that I have no problems with watching again and again. It has a fantastic (and, unfortunately, unreleased) score by Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams, with Pharrell’s original songs being quite enjoyable as well, despite me not being too fond of all of the lyrics (they just seem strange at times). The likability of these characters and the humor brought by each of the vocal talents behind them make Despicable Me one of the best animated films of the past few years.

Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for rude humor and mild action

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Rise of the Guardians (2012)

I first read the plot summary of Rise of the Guardians somewhere in the beginning months of 2012, and I thought that it was one of the most ridiculous plot summaries that I had ever read. However, that all changed when I saw the trailer for the first time a few months later; the animation was beautiful and the idea of putting twists on all of these supernatural beings that we grew up believing in seemed like a lot of fun, and I suddenly became extremely excited to see this movie. Unfortunately, when I was finally able to see the film a couple of days before Christmas, I was highly disappointed.

The failure of the film isn’t in its re-imagining of beloved childhood heroes, which I thought was done rather well (Alec Baldwin’s Russian-inspired Santa Claus was particularly amusing), but rather in its inability to tell the story implied by its title. Instead of being treated to a story of how the Guardians – Santa, Easter Bunny, Sandman, and Tooth Fairy – came into existence, or at least how they joined together to protect the children of the world, we’re introduced to Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine, who can’t be seen by people because they don’t believe in him. Throughout the movie, Jack is searching for his past, which he can’t remember, and it’s his search for answers that becomes the focus of the film. The actual Guardians take a backseat to this quest, and it often seems forced, especially in the film’s relatively short run time of an hour and a half.

Regrettably, even if you take Jack Frost out of the picture and focus solely on the Guardians and on the antagonist, Pitch (i.e. The Boogeyman), there are plenty of problems. The Guardians rely on children believing in them to fuel their powers, so when Pitch interferes with the Guardians’ duties and causes children to stop believing in them, they start to lose their power. This is all fine and dandy and makes sense, but the problem I have is that the film implies that disbelief in one Guardian results in disbelief in the others…which doesn’t even make sense. For example, Pitch prevents the Tooth Fairy from collecting teeth and leaving coins, so the children not only stop believing in the Tooth Fairy (as if every child in the world was waiting for their teeth to be taken anyway), but also in the other Guardians. Personally, I don’t think that disbelief in the Tooth Fairy or in the Sandman would affect my belief in a being like Santa, who plays such a huge part in our popular culture. Aside from that problem, which particularly bothered me, Santa’s helpers, which comprise of elves and yetis, seem to be just cheap imitations of the Minions from Universal’s Despicable Me.

I had high hopes for this film, perhaps too high, which made my disappointment all the more upsetting. The film boasts an all-star cast, wonderful animation, and a beautiful score by composer Alexandre Desplat, but none of that is enough to save itself from a plot that is far less inspired than what was promised by both the trailers and the title. I wish that things had turned out differently, but, as much as it pains me to say it, Rise of the Guardians failed to captivate me like I had hoped, but, to a less critical person, it may be decent enough to entertain.

-Chad

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for thematic elements and some mildly scary action

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, here!