Steve Carell is the voice of Gru, a suburban supervillain whose seemingly innocuous wood-frame semi sits above a vast underground lair populated by hordes of spiky, yellow and predictably braindead minions. As befits a family-friendly baddie, Gru’s acts of evil extend to freeze-raying passers-by and attempting to steal the moon rather than actual abduction or murder. Which means that when he adopts three adorable tow-headed orphan girls – for purposes of subterfuge too convoluted to go into here – it’s not long before their plucky charm and winning optimism begin to melt his cold, cold heart.
Characterisation is the movie’s strong suit: Carell’s bizarre mittel-European accent threatens to make Gru a tough sell, but when his three well-defined and loveable charges enter the picture this irascible, prickly exterior becomes more transparent. There’s solid support, too: Russell Brand goes full cockernee as techno-wizard Dr Nefarious, while Julie Andrews makes a brief but memorable turn as Gru’s domineering mother. What the film lacks, ironically, is a decent bad guy: Jason Segel’s preening, Bill Gates-inspired Vector is more annoying than evil, and while Will Arnett makes an impression as Mr Perkins, president of the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers), his character is frustratingly underexplored.
As a US production written and directed by a team of Spaniards and Frenchmen, ‘Despicable Me’ has an agreeable, mid-Atlantic feel, its style sitting somewhere between ‘Bolt’ and ‘Belleville Rendez-Vous’. With visits to Paris, the Pyramids and the moon, the film’s plot may be a little overcrowded, but that doesn’t prevent ‘Despicable Me’ from being one of the year’s most likeable family entertainments.