Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, 95 mins (U)

Beautiful CGI? Check. Cute gags? Check. Half-decent plot? Oops...

Given the time and money that go into producing even 60 seconds of animation, cartoons tend to be planned far more carefully than live-action films.

Take any Pixar movie: you don't get that intricacy of plotting or concentration of jokes in an Adam Sandler comedy. Despicable Me is another example. Released by Universal, it follows the formula set by Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony et al by being jam-packed with incidental gags and beautifully realised vistas. But in this instance, all those little details are there to paper over the gaping cracks where the story and characters should be.

The film begins with the premise that the hero is, in fact, a villain. Voiced by Steve Carell, Gru is a bald, eastern European, Blofeld-ish megalo-maniac who zaps people with his freeze ray so that he can jump the queue at the coffee shop. He's infamous for his grandiose crimes committed with the aid of an ageing scientist (voiced by Russell Brand) and thousands of pill-shaped yellow henchmen. But when a new villain on the block makes off with an Egyptian pyramid, stealing Gru's thunder in the process, he decides to take his career to a new level: he plans to pluck the moon from out of the sky.

It's at this point that the story goes adrift. To fund his lunar heist, Gru has to secure a loan from the Bank of Evil. And to secure that loan he has to pinch a shrink ray from his young rival, Vector. But Vector won't let anyone into his base, except small children selling cookies, so Gru has to adopt three cute orphan girls. And that, at long last, is where we get to the heart of the film.

The pyramid and the bank and the shrink ray and the cookies are there solely in order for Gru to choose between stealing the moon and becoming a loving dad and attending the girls' ballet recital. In short, instead of exploiting the comic potential of two pettily competitive supervillains, we get yet another restatement of one of Hollywood's most familiar – and most hypocritical – messages, that fathers should always put their children before their jobs.

In contrast with the complexity of the best Pixar films, Despicable Me is so uninspired that it ends with a dance routine. Carell brings some welcome depth and pathos to Gru, but the other characters might as well have been named Scientist, Bank Manager, and Orphans One, Two and Three, while the yellow Minions could have been called the Cuddly Toys.

In this light, the exuberant production design and endless throwaway gags start to look like desperate attempts to distract us from the cartoon's hollow core. You can almost see the roomful of writers labouring to reach their jokes-per-minute quota. But it's a shame that a film about yanking the moon from the earth's orbit should end up so full of cheese.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber watches Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren in Red, as they set out to prove that an action hero can hold a bus pass

Also Showing: 17/10/2010

Vampires Suck (82 mins, 12A)

The latest movie parody from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the writer-directors of Date Movie, Meet the Spartans and other such wretched wastes of time. Still, this is certainly their least awful effort so far. A spoof of the first two Twilight films, it's pointed enough to suggest, for a change, that the duo have some vague understanding of the source material, and Jenn Proske does a spot-on Kristen Stewart impersonation. Now all they need to learn is that the mention of a reality TV show does not, in itself, constitute a joke.

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (105 mins, U)

Anselm Kiefer is a German artist who turned a derelict silk factory in France into a post-industrial wonderland of tunnels, huts and concrete towers. He and his assistants are remarkably matter-of-fact as they lob around plate glass. But if Kiefer's methods are unpretentious, the same can't be said for Sophie Fiennes's numbingly slow documentary. A film to be watched, if at all, in a gallery, not a cinema.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living