Like a stocky, neckless penguin on stilts (and with a pointy nose reminiscent of Danny DeVito in 1992’s “Batman Returns”), Gru (voiced by Steve Carell in “Despicable Me”) wants desperately to be despicable. He’s got everything an evil mastermind could want: A mad (though somewhat senile) scientist, a fully equipped lair and an army of adoring minions. So what do you get the villain who has everything?
Some bad boys can’t change.
Though the ladies in their lives think they can flip that switch that makes them sinister, it’s just in their nature to be bad.
Others perhaps were never meant to be evil in the first place. They have a goodness deep inside that hasn’t been allowed to glow. Something, someone or some shattered or shuttered dream has instead spilled darkness, like sticky maple syrup, into their soul.
This evil infection can sometimes be cleared up with the right injection of love, kindness and cuteness.
This “Reel Deal” change is a lot more than the coins rattling around in your pockets. If these characters can spare it, it could change their lives, and their worlds.
That’s change you can count on.
At a theater near you
Like a stocky, neckless penguin on stilts (and with a pointy nose reminiscent of Danny DeVito in 1992’s “Batman Returns”), Gru (voiced by Steve Carell in “Despicable Me”) wants desperately to be despicable. He’s got everything an evil mastermind could want: A mad (though somewhat senile) scientist, a fully equipped lair and an army of adoring minions.
So what do you get the villain who has everything?
How about a family?
When a new, younger villain, Vector (voiced by Jason Segal), tips the scales of evil and steals the spotlight, Gru’s maniacal moon-stealing mission is muffled.
To protect his sinister status (and ultimately impress his disapproving mother), he hatches a plan that involves adopting three orphaned, young sisters and using them to steal back a shrink ray from his nasty nemesis, who has a weakness for the orphans’ coco-nutty cookies.
Not part of the plot, Gru finds himself growing attached to the doe-eyed darlings.
Maybe not as riotously funny as I expected from a duel of despicable villainy between TV humor heavyweights Carell (of “The Office”) and Segal (of “How I Met Your Mother”), “Despicable Me” is much sweeter and more subtle than I suspected it could ever be.
Also lending voices to villains are Russell Brand (Dr. Nefario), Julie Andrews (Gru’s mean mom), Will Arnett (Bank of Evil – formerly Lehman Brothers, according to the sign over the door – exec Mr. Perkins) and Kristen Wiig (Mrs. Hattie, the most despicable orphanage owner since “Annie’s” Miss Hannigan).
But the real stars are the minions – bright-yellow, waist-high, goggled, giggling, overall-clad cronies with little hair and one eye or two. They’re better – funnier at least – than Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas, and just as loyal.
Though they speak some other cute, garbled language, Gru seems to understand every word.
It’s just too bad that, despite knowing each by name, Gru treats them as disposable – not hesitating to use them as test subjects in experiments that shrink them, send them soaring uncontrollably into space or obliterate them completely. Good for laughs, maybe, but in our house, that’s not how you treat friends.
Family does finally bring out the best in Gru – in a heartfelt finish that makes it all worthwhile.
I can’t rate the 3-D on this one. Because recent failings have turned me off on the over-used technology, when my family watched it, the action stayed squarely on the screen. The animation is crisp and vibrant without it, though some gimmickry in the closing credits seemed primed for pop-off-the-screen prospects.
Foxes – excluding the “foxy lady” variety – live in infamy, known for the most part for their thievery and sneakability, and cussed by ranchers and fathers of young “hens” who have to protect them from the clutches of these conniving creatures.
Our “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is no different – caught in another hen house as the story unfolds, with Mrs. Fox along for the heist.
Caged and facing their doom, Mrs. Fox tells her mister that a baby fox is on the way, and if they make it out of their current predicament alive, he must promise to find another, safer line of work.
Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl (author of darkly tinged tales like “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”) and directed by Wes Anderson (creator of quirky dramedies like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” and “The Darjeeling Limited”), the stop-motion animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a movie for grown-ups that children also will enjoy.
George Clooney gives voice to the fuzzy, fantastic Mr. Fox, who looks like a stuffed animal brought to life by an imaginative child’s invisible hands. His missus is voiced by Meryl Streep. Also in the voice cast are many of Anderson’s usual suspects – including Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson.
Imagine if Clooney’s “Oceans Eleven” crook character, Danny Ocean, was forced to retire from what he does best – stealing – in the face of parenthood.
Perhaps, like Mr. Fox, he’d end up a journalist – writing a popular column for the daily rag. Like Mr. Fox, though, he’d likely long for the thrill of the heist.
With the Foxes’ son, Ash, now a “tween,” Mr. Fox decides to dip his tail back into his old, exciting occupation.
He enlists his wild-eyed pal Badger, and later his visiting “natural athlete” nephew Kristofferson, while his son stews and feels left-out and unloved.
Mr. Fox’s “last big score” is a triple-threat, as he targets the prized produce of the big three – Boggins, Bunce and Bean, who are fat, short, lean and equally mean.
He soon learns there are consequences to his return to crime – as the farmers wage a war and force Mr. Fox, his family and friends underground, literally.
In his egotistical quest to stay “Fantastic” in the eyes of friends and family, he’s put all of their lives in jeopardy.
Now, to survive, he’ll need their help – and one more fantastic plan.
The look and feel of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is classic and old-fashioned, and the storytelling is rich and unique.
It didn’t have to be animated at all – with just a minor tweak in the script, Anderson could’ve substituted live actors in the roles and it would’ve played almost as well as a witty, moralistic dramedy.
But he was shooting for fantastic. And he got it.
Evil has another chance to reign in Dreamworks’ “Megamind,” featuring the voice of Will Ferrell in the title role and Brad Pitt as the strong-jawed Superman-like hero, Metro Man, who foils his sinister plots.
“Megamind” looks like it will do for the “Superman” story what “Wicked” did for “The Wizard of Oz” – telling the other, “evil” side of things.
It also reminds me of the musical Internet serial smash hit “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” which pitted Neal Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible) against puffed-up do-gooder Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion).
Also cast in “Megamind” is Tina Fey, as a Lois-Lane-like reporter with one exception – she doesn’t need saving.
Get ready to root for the bad guy Nov. 5.
Robert McCune is editor of The Independent in Massillon, Ohio. E-mail him at Robert.McCune@IndeOnline.com.