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Mr. Beaks Takes A Peek At The Animated Supervillainy Of DESPICABLE ME!

Like many parents, Chris Meledandri's mother was very strict about what kinds of movies she'd let her child watch at a young age. Unlike many parents, she preferred to expose her son to, say, EASY RIDER rather than BAMBI. And this explains how Chris grew up to be one of the most successful producers of mainstream, family-skewing animated films in Hollywood? It may be difficult to find traces of Meledandri's counterculture upbringing in the films he shepherded to the screen as the founding president of 20th Century Fox Animation (e.g. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, ROBOTS and the ICE AGE movies), but his support of upstart animators (he brought the Blue Sky crew to the studio) and his love for the work of Dr. Seuss suggests that there's at least a touch of nonconformity present in this veteran executive's filmmaking philosophy. Actually, it's tempting to view Meledandri's disastrous $75 million gamble on TITAN A.E. as a daring act of studio sabotage, but he seems to regard burning piles of Rupert Murdoch's money as a failed professional suicide*, so let's move on.

Meledandri certainly has. In 2008, after thirteen years at Fox, he launched Illumination Entertainment, an independent production company that will provide Universal with a promising slate of family movies over the next five years. First up is DESPICABLE ME, a Grinch-y little saga from directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud about a supervillain's attempt to steal the moon - which gets complicated when he finds himself unexpectedly raising three little orphan girls. Judging from the fifteen minutes of footage Meledandri recently screened for a select group of troublemaking online journalists (including yours truly), it appears to be a smart play for a fledgling company: the concept is simple, the tone is amiable, and the voice cast is filled out with a who's who of who's hot in comedy today. TITAN A.E. this is not. No, this is heartwarming stuff with a slightly mischievous bent. As a supervillain, Gru (Steve Carell doing an amusing vocal mash-up of Bela Lugosi and Ricardo Montalban) is less about being feared and more about being a nuisance. His proudest accomplishment thus far: stealing NBC's Times Square jumbotron. Gru's other major thefts - the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower - sound more impressive until you realize they're the miniature Las Vegas versions. Mostly, though, it seems Gru spends his time strolling around town performing acts of mild cruelty to little children, as seen in this teaser trailer...
That balloon animal bit serves as Gru's introduction in the film. The rest of the scene finds him freezing a long line at a chain coffee establishment in order to get swifter service, and then driving home in his large, environmentally-contentious car (which, in a true act of evil, he backs into his driveway). Gru's house is an ominous-looking structure in a suburban neighborhood full of cookie-cutter two-story dwellings (not as decrepit as the Radley's or the Addams', but just as out of place), and it masks a gargantuan underground laboratory where his pint-sized, squeaky-voiced minions toil to carry out his nefarious plans. Here's a taste of their shenanigans...
The first bit of footage we watched ended with Gru addressing these little fellas, psyching them up for his forthcoming moon heist, and informing them that he'll pay for it all with a loan from the bank. "They love me!" exclaims Gru. Given that Gru's nemesis in the film is the bratty son of a banker (voiced by Jason Segel, and glimpsed in the first embed above), I'm assuming this loan request is an avenue to significant humiliation for our protagonist.

The heart of DESPICABLE ME is Gru's unlikely relationship with the three little girls, who basically adopt him as their father. They're charmed by Gru's brusque demeanor (certainly not his intent), and successfully bully him into doing whatever they want. This includes stopping off at an oceanside amusement park, where they talk the fun-phobic Gru into riding a rollercoaster (he ultimately loves it). They also convince him to throw money at a rigged carnival game, which results in Gru blasting the entire attraction to smithereens. These may not be the most inventive scenarios, but your kids (or nieces and nephews) will probably love it. As you'll notice from the four teaser trailers now available online, Universal and Illumination are revealing the characters and narrative of DESPICABLE ME in piecemeal fashion. Most interestingly, they've yet to introduce the girls. We had a rather candid discussion with Meledandri regarding the wisdom of this approach, and he indicated that the teasers are designed to encourage a sense of discovery in the viewer. "I like it, but what the hell is 'it'?" is the reaction Meledandri hopes to evoke at this point in the marketing process. While this may sound counterintuitive, the slow roll-out worked rather brilliantly for the first ICE AGE (which was sold first on the peripheral antics of Scrat the squirrel). Meledandri is clearly hoping the minions are DESPICABLE ME's Scrat. To be honest, I'm not crazy about the minions' bit in the teaser, but they're fairly amusing in the context of the film. The most impressive aspect of DESPICABLE ME thus far is the animation: Gru's underground fortress is rich with activity and background detail (it's not scored to Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse", but it could be); the character designs are striking (courtesy of RATATOUILLE's Carter Goodrich); and the roller coaster sequence promises to induce a good deal of vertigo on the big screen. This is the best-looking animated film Meledandri's been involved with; if he keeps encouraging this kind of commitment to distinct visuals, I can't wait to see how Ricky Gervais's FLANIMALS turns out.

Illumination is also working on a live-action/animation mix called I HOP (starring Russell Brand and James Marsden), as well as an adaptation of Dr. Seuss's THE LORAX. Considering Melendari's track record, I've no doubt he'll rack up massive profits for Universal as he did for Fox. But does he have it in him to inspire the kinds of classics Pixar keeps churning out on a yearly basis? Obviously, with his company in its infancy, he needs to deliver box office right now, but once/if he gets settled, I'd like to see him tap into that ten-year-old kid who sat through EASY RIDER. Pleasing audiences is nice and all, but blowing their minds is where it's at. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

*I recall enjoying the film when I saw it in an empty theater on opening day in 2000, but I'm a sucker for Don Bluth.

Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:41 a.m. CST


    by detectivesoap

    and Titan A.E. rules.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:42 a.m. CST

    Titan AE

    by I_am_the_ultimate_product

    Was awesome. Those villain aliens were awesome.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:46 a.m. CST

    My daughter and I

    by detectivesoap

    watch shitloads of Bluth movies thanks to Netflix (that's pretty much the only decent full-length animation they have on "watch instantly"). I'm starting to really like them, but every once in a while, there's a serious stinker. Best one so far...Anastasia. It's kind of a triumph. That movie has so much eye candy it puts Disney to fucking shame. Still. Rasputin scared the shit out of my kid too, which isn't very funny I suppose. Kind of funny. She wanted to watch it again, so that's good.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:53 a.m. CST

    The Pebble and the Penguin

    by detectivesoap

    was the serious stinker I mentioned above. It made me want to tear my ears off and scoop my eyes out. Kid thought it was awful too. "This is shit." Direct quote. And she's six, and not supposed to say "shit", but I couldn't even give her a time out or whatever responsible parents do nowadays cause I agreed. We had to follow it up with fucking Feivel just to get the stench out of the room.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:55 a.m. CST

    i don't really see animation in the theater

    by MacReady452


  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:58 a.m. CST

    Titan AE

    by Unscripted

    TAE is among the long list of my favorite movies. I can understand why it bombed commercially - it boils down to skimpy promotion - but I simply do not understand why the movie is regarded as a failure on any other level.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:59 a.m. CST

    Will it end differently on Valentines Day though?

    by ISleptWithKathyBatesAndAllThatIGotWasThisStupidTalkbackName

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 1:57 a.m. CST

    Titan A.E.

    by The4thHansonBrother

    is a very under-rated movie.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 2:26 a.m. CST

    Despicable Me looks great but the they could have

    by Pantomimist

    picked a more marketable title. I can see this bombing based on the title alone.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 2:47 a.m. CST

    I'm interested.

    by lotharius3rd1118

    I hope this doesn't suck. And Titan A.E. was one of the best SF films of the last decade. About as close to the fun and feel of the original Star Wars as audiences are likely to get anytime soon. The aliens were cool, the plot twists were farily surprising, and action was awesome. It's only downfalls are some overactive character animation and the unfortunate choice of music throughout the movie. The trailer for it that was a just a series of images set to Creed's "Higher" was a real eye-fucker though.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:05 a.m. CST

    Titan AE's deleted scenes

    by Spaz_Monkey

    show that there was a much more interesting movie than what we ended up with. True, it might not have been much better, but there was definitely more to it than the final product.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:06 a.m. CST

    and yes,

    by Spaz_Monkey

    I too am a fan of Titan AE.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:22 a.m. CST


    by lotharius3rd1118

    I never really had the attention span for the deleted scenes on the Titan A.E. disc (which is now scratched beyond belief and in desperate need of a replacement) because of the unfinished animation. Is there anything that sticks out?

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 5:02 a.m. CST

    Peek. He took a peek. Not a peak.

    by Teko

    A peak is the top of a mountain. A peek is a look at something.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 5:04 a.m. CST

    Titan AE wasted Janeane Garofalo in her prime

    by DOGSOUP

    But Ive seen it several times since. Its a Bluth movie with a boner joke.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 5:27 a.m. CST

    Really don't get the love for Titan AE

    by TinSpider

    I saw it during it's release at fucking hated it. Especially the soundtrack. I feel I would have liked it more with a proper orchestral score throughout but the shitty commercial song soundtrack killed almost every scene. It just didn't fit what was happening on screen and ruined the whole movie. Sort of like how Phil Collins ruined Tarzan. Shame coz I love me some Bluth, especially Dragons Lair and Space Ace. They really should make a feature of those, but with no shoe-horned commercial shit music.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 5:52 a.m. CST


    by lotharius3rd1118

    The trick is to look past that shity soundtrack and find an expertly designed, straightforward SF movie that imagines a pretty varied world-building experience. There were lots of alien races and an intersting view of humanity as refugees in a universal society. Not to mention that the villains were an exellent precursor for the geth in the mass effect video games. It's just a fine feat for imagination. A lot of fun ideas and a good sense of humor. Sure, the humor was a little off and the animation had some shoddy sequences, but it was a terrific film that would have been a blockbuster, or at least a cult classic, had it been live action.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 6:30 a.m. CST

    Sounds like Austin Grossman's "Soon I Will Be Invincible"

    by FootFnMaster

    It's a solid little novel with a supervillian as the main character who, growing up, had a lab under his suburban house. He's been thwarted up to now with his plans. This looks more kid friendly than the novel. Get legal on the phone.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 6:44 a.m. CST


    by lotharius3rd1118


  • Feb. 16, 2010, 6:46 a.m. CST

    Soon I Will Be Invincible

    by lotharius3rd1118

    My older brother loved it and loan it to me. Really enjoyed the lead, but didn't appreciate the prose. Either way, it was a fun read, glad to head that others have discovered it.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 6:49 a.m. CST

    "Soon I Will Be Invincible"

    by FootFnMaster

    Lotharius: Give it a whirl. It's bigger in scope than this movie, I think, with lots of super-heroes, etc. It's a solid novel, blue tights aside. The premise for this movie reminded me of the book. Hopefully, Austin Grossman can get paid too.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:02 a.m. CST

    Yeah, sorry

    by TresEquis

    This looks pretty terrible

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:11 a.m. CST

    Blue Sky hasn't made a good movie since the first Ice Age

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    The two sequels were mediocre, and Robots and Hortn Hears A Who! were bland. Shame...

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:14 a.m. CST

    And yes, Titan A.E. was awesome

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    The chase through the field of giant ice crystals was fucking STUNNING.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:35 a.m. CST

    What'S Don Bluth up to these days?

    by RedEgiraahgnal

    It would be a shame if he stopped traumatizing kids with his movies forever. (I even go so far and blame "N.I.M.H." for my Arachnophobia! Good times, good times...)

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:42 a.m. CST

    "Would it help if I got out and pushed?"

    by FeralAngel

    That's the line from the trailer of Titan A.E. that convinced me NOT to see it. The line was a blatant, word-for-word direct steal from The Empire Strikes Back, and that burned my balls (aesthetically speaking). When it comes to 2D animated sci-fi, I much prefer Treasure Planet. I saw it at the theater and liked it, and I've re-watched it several times on the Disney channels, and that thing looks better and better as time goes by. Good characters, clever ideas (Long John Silver as an amiable, fatherly but treasure-hungry cyborg - a brilliantly-rendered concept) and damn beautiful animation. But like most sci-fi-based animated cartoons, it underperformed at the box office. Too bad. Was a hell of a lot better than Titan and, oh yeah, this stupid-looking Despicable Me. Feh.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:43 a.m. CST

    The Ice crystal scene was awesome!

    by lotharius3rd1118

    A definite centerpiece. But I kind of liked the planet they go to that is populated by balloons filled with explosive gasses. That, to me, was something I had never seen before. And the fact that that planet's inhabitants psychic abilities seemed to be based off of sheer observation of the stars around them instead of a supernatural daemon like the force. Man, what is Don Bluth up to these days?

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 7:46 a.m. CST


    by lotharius3rd1118

    I don't remember that line from the movie. But, at the same time, you just mentioned a movie I've never bothered to watch. Is it any good? Is it really just 'Treasure Island' in space? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:12 a.m. CST

    Don Bluth

    by cyberskunk

    Here's some stuff he (or his company) is doing. I do remember talk about a Dragon's Lair movie years back but I guess that went nowhere.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:15 a.m. CST

    Titan A.E.

    by Quackfu

    Was a movie with some balls to it. It created fantastical otherworldly environments and spacescapes instead of just reimagining a whole planet of ice or sand. The villians were both dangerous and effective. As a whole a good film. Easily holds up to about 80% sci-fi crap put out these days.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:16 a.m. CST


    by Quackfu

    Even Siskel and Ebbert liked it (or whoever was partnering with Ebbert).

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:19 a.m. CST


    by lotharius3rd1118

    Always good to hear some love for that little bit of awesome that was Titan A.E. Personally, I think that it was the disaster of "Battlefield Earth" that ruined "Titan A.E." Same summer. Same genre. One was a disaster. The other a triumph. Together, they were overshadowed by Russell Crowe in "Gladiator."

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:23 a.m. CST

    Reminds me of the Kids in the Hall "Pit of Ultimate Darkness"...

    by Royston Lodge

    ...where the supreme acts of evil are all hilariously pathetic.<p> - Hecubus, do you know why I was late today?<p> - No master, I don't.<p> - Someone had parked in my parking spot. Hecubus, what kind of car do you drive?<p> - A red Corolla, master.<p> - EVIL!!!!

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:30 a.m. CST

    Liked Titan AE

    by doubleARon

    It was uneven. At the time I don't think I realized it, but the soundtrack was rather horrible, wasn't it. Huh.<p> Lots of memorable stuff in it for me. Wonder when my almost-5-year-old will be ready for it. Hmm...<p> Treasure Planet was _almost_ good. The Martin Short robot COMPLETELY killed the entire movie from the moment it appeared (and I like Martin Short ever since Innerspace). All of the blame probably doesn't fall on that character, but the movie just falls apart at the time. <p>Some of the visuals are stunning, though. The premise and the art direction weren't enough to save it for me, though. I was very disappointed.<p> Definitely enjoyed Titan AE more when I saw it.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 10:06 a.m. CST

    Titan A.E. on DVD

    by Teko definitely worth watching with the commentary track. Basically 90 minutes of Don Bluth & Gary Goldman explaining exactly why everything that sucks about it is there... and yes, it all comes down to the execs saying "put this in!" or "make this like Star Wars!". They're very proud that they took a crappy movie and made it fun as best they could. I remember one story from the commentary about Janeane Garofalo's character Stith... Don Bluth said he was so bored by all the crap they were forcing him to add to the movie that he gave the character four knees just for the hell of it, because he'd never animated something with four knees and it seemed like fun.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 10:45 a.m. CST

    Despicable Me looks like garbage.

    by Dingbatty

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 10:45 a.m. CST

    SIWBI and KITH

    by Cinemanimetal

    Loved Soon I Will Be Invincible. Also, I loved those Kids in the Hall sketches. EVIL!

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 11:57 a.m. CST

    Just Recently Re-Watched Anastasia


    It was better than I remembered it. Darn good, actually. Comparable to Princess and the Frog. Not quite up to Beauty and the Beast standards, but I doubt anything Disney comes up with is going to be up to Beauty and the Beast standards.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:21 p.m. CST

    after titan ae..

    by emeraldboy

    fox shut down its 2d animation unit.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:25 p.m. CST

    the third teaser..

    by emeraldboy

    is just great. sweet. short and very funny.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:30 p.m. CST

    i saw titan ae in cinema...

    by emeraldboy

    and it looked horrible.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 12:52 p.m. CST

    Lynch and Lucas, animated

    by slummingangel

    Here's a funny animated short about David Lynch meeting George Lucas. You guys HAVE TO SEE THIS:

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 1 p.m. CST

    just watched jlu...crisis

    by brabon300

    good story....most of the voice acting was good...except for baldwin as bats, who sucked balls<p> does anyone know if conroy did something to piss dc off?

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 1:05 p.m. CST

    You lost me at "Steve Carell"

    by Triple_J_72

    buh-bye now...

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 2:39 p.m. CST

    This article reads like an ad

    by GimpInMyPants

    I think some money exchanged hands for this review. It's just a gut feeling. Mary & Max is one of the best animated movies I've ever seen and hardly anyone saw it. Where's the praise for that movie?

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 2:56 p.m. CST

    Kevin Conroy

    by glenn_the_frog

    hasn't done anything to piss DC off, and in fact he just played Batman again (well, alternate world Batman) in Brave and the Bold. <p> What it is, is the execs want "different" and "big names" to make the movies stand out as separate from the tv shows. <p> They still end up getting Conroy on like, every third project anyway.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 2:59 p.m. CST

    pedophile me?? 3 little girls and a stranger??

    by ludmir88


  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:37 p.m. CST

    I'm a sucker for Don Bluth as well...

    by robhouston

    Watched The Secret of Nihm with my kids the other night - we all enjoyed the crap out of it.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:45 p.m. CST

    Anastasia is also great

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    After a decade's worth of absolute CRAP (Pebble & The Penguin, A Troll In Central Park, ect.), both Anastasia and Titan A.E. were Bluth's best worh since The Secret Of NIMH. It still pisses me off that Anastasia's box office was stunted by Disney reissuing The Little Mermaid on the SAME FUCKING WEEKEND in 1997. Hey, I love The Little Mermaid (Ariel is teh hotness), but Bluth got royally hosed. The fact that the movie still did a respectable $55 million was probably due to how good it really was. Titan A.E. just had a confused advertising campain coupled with the fact that it opened the same weekend as the Shaft remake, so teenagers snuck into that while family audiences barely even knew that Titan A.E. was even OUT.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:52 p.m. CST

    the wife did it...

    by frank cotton

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 3:57 p.m. CST

    titan a.e. is the best thing he's done

    by johnnysunshine

    So it didn't make any money, I'd still take Titan A.E. over Alvin and the Chipmonks or the Ice Age films any day.

  • Feb. 16, 2010, 9:38 p.m. CST

    I Too Love Titan A.E.

    by Autodidact

    My one big criticism is the stupid rock songs they inserted. But as others have said above, they invested real imagination into the settings and environments. And the sound design is pretty boss too. The 5.1 mix is one of the best on DVD imho.

  • Feb. 17, 2010, 1:17 a.m. CST

    I love Pixar movies

    by Sepulchrave

    ..I'm sorry, what was this article about again?

  • Feb. 17, 2010, 2:16 a.m. CST


    by mrbeaks

    That headline was misspelled all day. Fuck me running.

  • Feb. 18, 2010, 9:26 a.m. CST

    Battle For Terra

    by Series7

    Was also pretty awesome. Underrated animated film from last year. Plus its got one of the best scores from last year.