There's something wrong with the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt - it's been stolen and replaced with an inflatable rubber replica. This is causing panic across the world as various landmarks are protected from theft, with governments and military on high alert, but one person is concerned about the crime for a different reason than everyone else: he's annoyed he didn't think of it first. This villain is Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), and he has been in the profession of supervillainy for most of his adult life, his lair hidden in suburbia and with an army of minions to assist him. But now there's an upstart threatening his reputation...
Yet Despicable Me was not a simple story of oneupmanship between two bad guys, though its connections to the sort of manic cartoons that used to play out in cinemas for five minutes or so before the main feature was noted, as the team behind this had something far more domestic in mind for the drama of their yarn. Although an American production, the creative side was mostly taken care of by French and Spanish filmmakers, and that particular European flavour lent an interesting twist to what could have been the most dispiriting kids cartoon by the numbers to keep the little tykes occupied for an hour or two.
A lot of the time such productions succeeded because they had true cross-generational appeal, so any adult roped into watching them would be pleasantly surprised at the craftmanship which had gone into creating them: Pixar was the obvious studio which had set a very high bar there, and had made a lot of filmmakers raise their level of accomplishment in their attempts to keep up. That said, a lot of computer animated product was simply there to make easy money out of youngsters who will watch anything with bright colours and loud noises, hopefully generating a franchise in the process so that more cash can be milked out of uninspiring efforts.
On the surface, Despicable Me looked like one of those mediocre works, and right enough it did produce sequels, but delve a little deeper you'd perceive a more engaging quality both for the audience and the moviemakers. Certainly they went to town on the cuteness factor: the little girls who Gru ends up fostering have the same wide-eyed appeal as the small, yellow, begoggled minions at the anti-hero's beck and call, but at least there was a point to that and it was not there for cynical merchandising reasons. We can see that Gru is beset on all sides by the forces of cute: it's something that takes him a lot longer to latch onto, and that's his character development.
For most of the movie, however, he is caught up in beating his antagonist, a pretender to the throne of badguydom named Vector (Jason Segel) who has all the best gadgets at his disposal, much to the chagrin of Gru (who bears a curious, close resemblance to the British seventies Fleetway comics character Grimly Feendish - coincidence?). He makes his mind up to stage his greatest feat yet by stealing the Moon, but to do that, finances being what they were post-2008, he must shrink it with a special ray gun which unfortunately is stolen from under his pointy nose by Vector, and so forth. What we observe is that Gru turned out the way he did because of his never-impressed, neglectful mother (Julie Andrews), and that he can now make amends by playing father to the three little girls who initially he adopts as a ploy to gain access to Vector's fortress, but then predictably finds his heart melting. Luckily, this didn't get too sentimental, erring on the right side of cartoon silliness and humorous exaggeration; no classic, but better than many. Music by Pharell Williams and Heitor Pereira.