A big, bad but reformable meanie meets his match in a pint-size trio of orphaned sisters in Despicable Me. And lo, another 3-D animated kid movie demonstrates that cartoon storytelling pitched to young people is the last, best refuge of sprightly filmmaking this hard, hot summer. Steve Carell lays on a rich Hungarian goulash of an accent to become the voice of Gru, an overgrown brat who drives the town’s biggest environmentally incorrect vehicle (boo!) and plans to steal the moon (hiss!). The little girls who worm their way into his calcified heart are a sibling threesome Gru adopts only for their usefulness in his nefarious scheme — a baroque business plan involving a ray gun that can shrink the moon to transportable proportions.
Students of celebrity voice acting may want to know that Jason Segel plays Gru’s nicely obnoxious young competitor and iCarly‘s Miranda Cosgrove is the oldest of the sisters. Students of psychology will understand that everything rotten in Gru’s disposition can be traced to his impossible-to-please mama, a sour bat whose dismissive ehhhhs come forth from the cultured throat of Julie Andrews. This student of cultural influences is even more intrigued to know that Despicable Me (produced by the folks behind Ice Age and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!) is an American story, from a Spanish animator’s idea, fleshed out by a French animation house; no wonder a certain Euro je ne sais quoi influences the aesthetic of this charming tale of bad intentions and happy endings. The 3-D-ness of the adventure, meanwhile, is handled with globally translatable understatement. It would be despicable to leave before the credits, where the whole 3-D craze is summed up in a well-shaped joke. A-