The Last Airbender, The Karate Kid, Eclipse? I’ve seen them, but don’t ask me, I’ve got no deep thoughts. Knight and Day? I reviewed it, but honestly, even if you bought a ticket, can you remember anything about that out-of-breath action/romance/comedy/spy thing-y except that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz do some stunts on a motorcycle? I’ve been away from this space for a while because for the past six weeks or so, I’ve been nursing a mild strain of Hollywooditis — a gassy, grumbly feeling similar to what happens when I drink too much diet soda, with too much fake sweetener. No point exposing you to possible infection.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a bunch of really good, interesting films out, if you’re lucky enough to be near a congenial theater. If Cyrus, Winter’s Bone, Restrepo, Solitary Man, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Please Give, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Secret In Their Eyes, Wild Grass, The Father of My Children, I Am Love, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or that little specialty number Toy Story 3 are playing in town, run — well, don’t run, it’s too hot — but walk briskly to program your own high-quality summer film festival. And you know how I feel about The Kids Are All Right: I think I’m safe declaring that, for me, it’s one of the best movies of the year. The Kids only gets better with repeated viewing.
Hi, I’ve missed you. (I’ve missed you who post weird things on the comment board, too.) And I’m happy to say that, thanks to the success of Despicable Me, an animated kids’ movie about a big bad meanie who becomes a good daddy, my fever has broken. It should be no surprise that Despicable Me did as well as it did at the box office this past weekend, because animated movies made with kids in mind have become the last, best, secret bunker for adventurous, generous Hollywood storytelling. Yes, it helps that comedy heavy-hitter Steve Carell provides the voice of the despicable fellow in question, a cartoon villain named Gru, and that the little yellow capsule-headed minions who carry out Gru’s suitably cartoon-y nefarious schemes are as effervescent as Scrubbing Bubbles. But the movie works not because of the parts — the voice work, the drawing style, the pleasing, matter-of-fact use of 3D — but because the whole is as much a unified vision as anything the Great and Mighty Pixar produces.
Despicable Me bears the imprint of the guys who made Ice Age; it also sports a certain goofy ooh-la-la that feels very French, in the way of slightly demented Gallic, Triplets of Belleville-style whimsy. The elements are sturdy — cute little orphan sisters, nutty junior evil guy reminiscent of Buddy Pine/Syndrome in The Incredibles, untrustworthy adults like the orphanage headmistress, voiced by Kristen Wiig. The story knows its place, and size, and audience. The details are charming. (I wouldn’t want to drive it, but I love Gru’s eco-destroyer of a vehicle for getting around town.)
The next adult who tells me she or he doesn’t like animation will have a lot of explaining to do. Are you one of them?