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Despicable Me: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Review

Despicable Me movie poster Despicable Me

Theatrical Release: July 9, 2010 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Directors: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin / Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio (screenplay); Sergio Pablos (story)

Voice Cast: Steve Carell (Gru), Jason Segel (Victor "Vector" Perkins), Russell Brand (Dr. Nefario), Kristen Wiig (Miss Hattie), Miranda Cosgrove (Margo), Will Arnett (Mr. Perkins), Danny McBride (Fred McDade), Jack McBrayer (Carnival Barker, Tourist Dad), Julie Andrews (Gru's Mom), Dana Gaier (Edith), Elsie Fisher (Agnes), Pierre Coffin (Tim the Minion, Bob the Minion, Mark the Minion, Phil the Minion, Stuart the Minion), Chris Renaud (Dave the Minion), Jemaine Clement (Jerry the Minion), Mindy Kaling (Tourist Mom), Rob Huebel (Anchorman), Ken Daurio (Egyptian Guard), Ken Jeong (Talk Show Host)

Buy Despicable Me from Amazon.com:
1-Disc DVD • Limited Time DVD Double Pack • Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy


and Kelvin Cedeno

Few movie trailers have made as strong an impact on me and none as negatively as the initial teaser for Despicable Me. I encountered it twice in summer 2009 theater trips, and that was enough to give me a far in advance sour taste for the project, despite the preview's impressive list of talented voice cast members.
In the year that passed from seeing those trailers to the film's release, I came to realize that the movie couldn't have been as painful as the first look suggested. Despicable Me got warm reviews and was embraced by audiences to the tune of $250 million domestically and over $500 million worldwide.

And yet I maintained some skepticism, less because of that teaser (I long realized its central Egyptian pyramid deflation news report would amount to little more than a passing glimpse in the film, if even that) and more because the studio oddly opted to emphasize by name the input of Christopher Meledandri, an executive producer on the first two Ice Age movies. In the bountiful but young world of computer animation, Ice Age is the one franchise that has performed extremely well in theaters, earned high regard from moviegoers, and gotten some strong critical marks (at least the first film did) while doing very little to impress me. That Blue Sky series has long been my go-to example to prove that a seemingly harmless CGI cartoon needn't have great merit to become a global crowdpleaser. And here Universal was citing Ice Age as a reason to see a film that didn't look all that entertaining.

Of course, computer animated movies are a huge, collaborative process on which a production studio tends to be more indicative than the involvement of any individual producer. In that case, though, Despicable Me was the debut project of Illumination Entertainment, which Meledandri had resigned as Fox Animation president to establish at NBC Universal. Though once almost the exclusive domain of Disney, animation has now become an integral, lucrative part of nearly every major movie studio. Universal, which had distributed a number of the Steven Spielberg-produced, Don Bluth-directed animated films that stood as Disney's only competition in the 1980s and '90s, had gone without a dedicated animation division for some time. Beyond Curious George and The Tale of Despereaux, one had to go back to 1995 to find another theatrically-released Universal animated feature (the even less significant Balto).

Besides the viability of an animation division, there was more riding on Despicable Me. The film came at a time when Universal was barely clinging to a sixth place rank among the major film studios, with numbers comparable to the "mini-major" Summit Entertainment, whose success has been limited almost exclusively to the Twilight franchise. Even worse than the disappointment-marked previous year, 2010 was treating Universal to one costly underperformer after another, from The Wolfman to Green Zone to Robin Hood. Despicable Me's fortunes made for a promising launch for Illumination and went a long way to reversing Universal's string of flops. But, the question remained: was it any good?

Supervillain Gru's big evil plans are not enough to secure him his needed loan from the Bank of Evil. Gru's nerdy, seemingly superior nemesis Vector (voiced by Jason Segel) chills out in his heavily-guarded fortress.

Despicable Me centers on Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), an odd man bent on being the world's greatest supervillain. The film opens with that stolen pyramid gag of the teaser trailer, a heist pulled off not by Gru but by Vector (Jason Segel), his new, seemingly most serious competitor in villainy. If Vector can steal a pyramid, Gru can do one better, by stealing the moon. He dramatically announces this plan to an enthusiastic audience of his minions, the little yellow things you must know from ads. There are hundreds of minions, some one-eyed and others with the usual two. They speak in gibberish and serve as comic relief.

Not that the film needs comic relief. The whole thing is a very broad comedy driven by visual and physical gags. With his bald head, darkly-circled eyes, thick Russian accent, and impossibly pointy nose, the disproportioned Gru himself is a joke. The evil that fuels him is the non-threatening kind inviting laughs. He freezes customers to skip a coffee shop line and makes a balloon animal to cheer up a sad kid only to pop it immediately after. Even his first response to Vector's thievery is to acquire the small Las Vegas replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. The film's first half is a string of jokes like this, the sort where noticeable time is left to allow for summer cinema crowds to enjoy the laughter process without missing anything.

If, like me, you're not all that amused by these uninspired hijinks, there is nothing to really take in. All of the angles on which Pixar's masterpieces can be enjoyed are missed here. The visuals are up to par, but nothing special. The characters are unappealing in both design and content. There is neither warmth nor heart. The film has a DreamWorks feel and not the improved DreamWorks of late, but the mediocre productions like Monsters vs. Aliens that merely go for laughs in a fantastical world not so different from our own.

Gru's indeterminate, indecipherable, merchandise-ready Minions are designed to win you over. Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) becomes an unlikely father to cookie-selling orphan girls Agnes, Margo, and Edith.

Of course, Despicable Me must address having a villain for protagonist and also complement the comedy with something resembling a story. To that end, Gru has his loan request for funding the proposed moon heist denied by the Bank of Evil (formerly "Lehman Brothers", ho-ho-ho, something for the adults!). Enter a trio of orphan girls, whose door-to-door cookie selling is the only conceivable way to infiltrate sweet-toothed Vector's heavily-guarded fortress.
To steal the moon, Gru must first swipe Vector's shrink-ray gun. So, he poses as a dentist and charms his way into adopting those three girls.

With their pink hats and unicorn dolls, cute orphan girls are such an obvious antidote to Gru's overdramatic malice that one can't imagine the movie playing out in any way other than how it does. It doesn't even find tactful ways to soften Gru's edges, manufacturing sympathy with a standard montage, childhood flashbacks, and a bedtime story en route to the predictable resolution on the other side of a busy, noisy action climax.

The film doesn't give me any more faith in Meledandri's CGI filmmaking skills or hope in what is to come next from Illumination. In fact, its enormous financial success seems to raise questions about moviegoers' tastes. Ignoring inflation and the premium prices of 3-D engagements, Despicable Me earned more domestically than three recent Pixar hits (WALL•E, Cars, and Ratatouille) and every DreamWorks Animation release outside the first three Shrek movies. Sure, Universal marketed the heck out of the film, which they could by having a production budget $100-$130 million less than Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3, and How to Train Your Dragon. But aggressive, wide-reaching marketing can only sell so many tickets. The modest weekly drops Despicable Me underwent suggest strong word-of-mouth and high viewer satisfaction rates.

"Despicable Me" tries to generate sympathy for its villain protagonist by giving Gru a cold mother (voiced by Julie Andrews). This obnoxious, chubby American tourist boy from the teaser that turned me off to the film fortunately features merely in the brief pyramid-theft exposing prologue.

The only sense I can make of those is that people found the movie funny, something it's a lot easier to do in a crowded theater than in the comfort and privacy of one's home. In the latter setting, I found the movie merely diverting on an infrequent basis. There isn't anything smart, daring, or different about the humor. It doesn't advance the thin story in any way or enhance our appreciation for the caricatures within. It all feels very market-tested and audience-approved. It's not as familiar as Ice Age but its modest achievements are comparable to the start of that series. And like too many of today's animated properties, Despicable Me is well on its way to becoming a franchise itself, with a sequel currently pegged for 2013 release on IMDb.

You needn't wait that long to get more Despicable however, for most of this month's DVD and Blu-ray debuts contain three new "Mini-Movies" starring the Minions, an inclusion deemed significant enough to render the spine title "Despicable Me + 3 Mini-Movies." While you won't find said "mini-movies" on the cheapest and most popular version of the film (a single-disc DVD), they are available in a Limited Time DVD Double Pack, the 4-disc 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack (a $50 list price exercise in excess), and the more understandable subject of this review, a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo.

Despicable Me Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, French, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: December 14, 2010
Three single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 1 DVD-9 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.98
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Single-Disc DVD ($29.98 SRP), Limited Time DVD Double Pack ($34.98 SRP), and 4-Disc 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Pack ($49.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

As it should, the Blu-ray's picture quality excels. The bright, candy-colored visuals are vivid and warm in this 1.85:1 widescreen presentation. The animation style keeps things a bit soft, and the transfer accurately replicates that without any tinkering. Even so, the image is still filled with a great deal of fine detail. A few minor instances of color banding turn up in some sky shots, but they're the only shortcomings in an otherwise excellent transfer.

The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is also strong. Animated films have the advantage of having all of their sound elements mixed from scratch, often producing crystal-clear results. This one is no exception. Dialogue is crisp and intelligible while still sounding more natural than canned. Surrounds are constantly active with a wide range of effects stemming from crowds of minions to chomping shark jaws. The music also has a nice scope to it, complimenting all the other elements without overpowering. It's another example of a superb animation sound design.

The DVD's presentation also warrants superlatives. Like the Blu-ray, the widescreen picture is clean and detailed, if just a touch soft. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack packs quite the punch, providing a potent aural experience that is big on bass and original music. You'll have to look long and hard for someone wanting more than what the standard DVD offers here.

Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul are as amused as anyone by "The World of 'Despicable Me'" that they created. Pharrell Williams takes a hands-on approach to composing the movie's score in "Despicable Beats."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The DVD extras begin with "The World of Despicable Me" (15:16), a making-of featurette intended for those who haven't seen the movie. Crew and voice cast members describe the characters, the story, and the settings. Some information emerges, but the piece is more about making the movie look good to potential viewers than shedding light on production.

"Despicable Beats" (2:48) discusses Pharrell Williams' musical contributions to the film in a promotional, congratulatory way.

The set-top game Gru's Rocket Builder is a bit of a geography quiz. It truly is a global effort: through the magic of videoconferencing, Vector voice actor Jason Segel cheerfully receives directions from France.

Gru's Rocket Builder is a game that has you identify stolen landmarks around the world to build a rocket piece by piece. Each correct answer nets a fact about said landmark. It's not a bad little activity.

"It's a Global Effort" (3:22) explains how the production reached across the globe, with voice actors recording their lines for directors on a different continent.

Trailers are included for the Despicable Me video game (1:00) and the Minion Mania app (0:50), but not the movie itself.

Last but not least among the DVD's extras comes an audio commentary by directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin. They are occasionally "joined" by the giggly, indecipherable minions, to stupid effect. Otherwise, the track is pretty ordinary, with Renaud and Coffin discussing what's onscreen from various angles in a reasonably interesting fashion.

Evidently unaware of the downstairs kitchen, three minions fight over a single banana in this new mini-movie. One of the minions appears for a bit of mischief unrelated to the film playing alongside him via Gru-Control.

In this combo pack, a number of extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray disc, although many of them of them can also be found on the second disc of the limited Double DVD Pack.

Firstly, there are the minions' three highly-touted "mini-movies", each somewhat charming.
In Home Makeover (4:22, HD), the minions help the girls make Gru's house more kid-friendly for a social worker visit. Orientation Day (3:59, HD) depicts a catastrophic first day for three new minion employees. Banana (3:45, HD) finds an epic battle break out over a piece of fruit.

Despite its name, the completely BD-exclusive "Gru-Control" has nothing to do with Universal's "U-Control" pop-up feature. Instead, this playback mode periodically takes you away from the film for short minion interstitials created for the film's theatrical release marketing campaign. While the shorts are cute, they are few, far between, and unrelated to the film itself. As such, this is not the ideal way to view them; they should've been strung together the way Pixar handles its animated bumpers.

"The Voices of Despicable Me" shows Julie Andrews recording a rare cackle for her matriarch character Marlena. In one of three Super Silly Fun Land mini-games, you throw the ball at just the right moment for that the snake (or whatever it is) can digest it in the most valuable way.

"The Voices of Despicable Me" (16:34, HD) interviews practically every actor heard in the film, letting them describe their characters, how they approached voicing them, and what the directors did to get certain reactions (particularly from the younger cast members). Since these are all EPK interview clips, we don't discover much that isn't gained by watching the movie. Still, some behind-the-scenes footage and ironic Steve Carell remarks add entertainment value.

Super Silly Fun Land holds three set-top games. In "Feed the Creatures", you toss a ball into a snake's mouth to earn points on where it is digested (really). "Tin Can Alley" has you try to knock down a stack of tin cans. Finally, "Freeze the Minions" is a variation on Whack-A-Mole, in which you aim your freeze-ray at minions as they pop out of holes. The sluggish nature and uninspired prizes (static images including the oh-so-fluffy unicorn plushie) prevent these from being the breezy carnival fun they're meant to be. Blu-ray games are capable of much more than this.

Miss Hattie's Top Secret Cookie Recipes are no longer a secret, thanks to the Blu-ray's recipe screens like this one for Minty Mints. The minions' end credits shenanigans, seemingly designed with 3-D in mind, enliven the DVD's main menu.

"Miss Hattie's Top Secret Cookie Recipes" is a collection of text-based ingredients and directions screens for the following scrumptious-sounding delicacies: Minty Mints, Choco Swirls, Coconutties, Toffee Totes, and Caramel Clumpies.

The DVD opens with a meaningless teaser (read: project announcement) for the company's follow-up film, the Easter bunny comedy Hop,
Adult Despicable Me Gru
followed by promos for Nanny McPhee Returns, The Little Engine That Could, home video formats, and Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy. None of these are accessible from the menus. Via BD-Live, the Blu-ray plays streaming promos periodically updated to remain timely. Those currently playing advertise Hop, Nanny McPhee Returns, the King Kong 360 3D attraction at Universal Studios, and the Pocket Blu application.

The main menu predictably features minion hijinks (pulled from the end credits) while Pharrell Williams' theme song plays. The remaining selection screens give us the simplified version of that, with still imagery (and score on the Bonus menu).

The three discs of Despicable Me's combo are packaged in a standard, slim Blu-ray case that's topped by an embossed cardboard slipcover which makes the only references to the set's digital copy. When the slipcover disappears, so too must the digital copy disc, which for now is tackily packaged in a paper envelope. The one in-case insert supplies your unique code for unlocking that digital copy in iTunes or Windows Media Player, while advertising the promotional tie-in Minion Madness website.

In case the voice cast didn't clue you into the producing and distributing conglomerate, the One Times Square Jumbotron Gru has stolen retains the NBC peacock that hasn't adorned it since 2006.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Despite the strong earnings and high public regard, I found Despicable Me to be a very mediocre comedy. Its Blu-ray + DVD combo pack is ordinary as well, its dynamic feature presentation being long typical for CGI fare and its extras having a more promotional than substantial bent. The film is harmless enough to give a look, but unless its sense of humor aligns with yours, you probably won't be returning to it regularly.

Buy Despicable Me from Amazon.com:
1-Disc DVD / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / 2-Disc DVD / 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + DVD + DC

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Steve Carell: Horton Hears a Who! • Date Night • Get Smart • Evan Almighty • Dan in Real Life
Russell Brand: Bedtime Stories | Jack McBrayer: 30 Rock: Season 3 | Kristen Wiig: Whip It • Ghost Town
Julie Andrews: Shrek the Third • The Sound of Music • Mary Poppins • Eloise at Christmastime
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs • The Incredibles • Meet the Robinsons • Chicken Little
Darkwing Duck: Volume 1 • Monsters, Inc. • Up • Bee Movie • Phineas and Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas

Despicable Me Songs List: Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama"; Pharrell Williams - "Despicable Me", "Fun, Fun Fun", "Prettiest Girls", "Rocket's Song"; "Garota De Ipanema"; Da Wallach - "The Way It Is (Vector's Theme)"; The Sylvers - "Boogie Fever"; Various Studio Musicians - "Copacabana"; The Bee Gees - "You Should Be Dancing", Robin Thicke - "My Life"

Despicable Me: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:

• Download from iTunes

• Download MP3s from Amazon.com

• Buy CD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed December 28, 2010.



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