One of the more popular movies out right now (it’s the summer of 2010, July) is Despicable Me. Spoilers coming up in the article and no doubtedly in the comments (if there are any). So, you have your warning.
Despicable Me is about a Villian in an alternate CGI world. Unfortunately, he’s being one-upped by Vector, the new villian on the block who spectacularly stole a pyramid in Egypt. Gru, the main character, decides to steal the moon to top Vector. Gru steals a shrink ray gun from an vaguely Chinese lab in an Asian-like country, only to have it stolen by Vector. Now, in order to get a loan from a Villian bank, he has to steal the shrink ray back.
This is where the story “takes off”. Gru sees a trio of little girls gain access into Vector’s lair because they are selling cookies. They’re orphans and Miss Hattie, the cruel headmistress of the orphanage forces them to sell cookies, and if they don’t make their quota, they get put in The Box. It’s literally a cardboard box, but it’s not funny. Gru goes in, adopts the girls as a sure-fire way to get into Vector’s lair, but along the way, he starts falling in love with them. You also learn that his mother has ignored all his childhood achievements, and that’s why he turned to villiany-to get the attention and a sense of accomplishment.
Gru’s villian-partner Dr. Nefario doesn’t like how he’s become distracted, and calls the orphanage and has the three girls taken back. Hijinks ensue with Gru stealing the moon, trying to make to the girls’ dance recital in time, and then has to get them back from Vector, who now wants the moon from Gru.
Despicable Me had its moments-there are a crowd of side-kick creatures who are bound to have their own series in the near future (but like the Smurfs, the females don’t exist). And Gru evolves in a sort-of sympathetic character. He’s a bumbler, and you can’t take him seriously.
My problem is with the role of the three little girls, Margot, Edith and Agnes. Gru’s and Vector’s and Dr. Nefario’s and the bank’s villiany is acknowledged and expressed. While we’re shown the horrible conditions the girls live under, that is never acknowledged, not even by them. They’re abused, yet it’s played for laughs-given that this is a children’s movie (?isit?) that’s expected, but it has slid over into tasteless territory. Stealing a pyramid? Funny. Putting little girls in boxes in imitation of POW torture? Not funny at all.
The girls are sad when they’re booted back to the orphanage with the abusive head of the orphanage–but never express too much anger about it. Nor does Miss Hattie ever get HER punishment, and there’s not any thought about the other orphans in her orphanage, as some sort of wrap up in the plot. Gru rescues the girls from Vector-but not the orphanage and evil-but-“nice” Miss Hattie. Notice that the rescue is from HIS adversary, but not theirs?
Then there’s Gru’s Mom, voiced by Julie Andrews. The only time she gives Gru her approval is when she sees he’s actually made himself into an attentive parent, which is what she was emphatically not. It’s one of the punchlines-the parent willfully ignoring their own neglectfulness and incompetence, praising their child for qualities they didn’t possess, yet take credit for.
So the thesis of this movie is, if you’re a mother, you’re at fault for your adult child’s behavior because you were neglectful or not Mom enough. If you’re not the mother, you are cruel and hate children, and are put in charge and yet, are never called upon your abusive practices. If you’re a little girl, you’re the way a grown man can man-up and find his softer feelings, and that’s about it. Your needs are fulfilled as soon as he loves you. But if you’re a woman, and you’re in a parental role, you suck royally.
And just as in Up with the dog pack, the lack of female minions is a real trend. These are alien looking tubey creatures, so it’s possible they reproduce via parthenogenesis, or are both sexes and don’t look it. I suppose the filmmakers thought there were villianesses enough in the orphanage headmistress and Gru’s mother. She doesn’t even have her own name!
I’m starting to wonder why I paid money to see this movie. Oh, right: I have two children, and they liked it. I’m disliking it more and more.