Friday, July 09, 2010

Despicable Me - how well will it do?

Despicable Me (Universal)

Starring (the voices of) Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Miranda Cosgrove, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, Jemaine Clement, Julie Andrews

Directed by Chris Renaud (animation department at Blue Sky Studios, "No Time for Nuts" short, upcoming The Lorax), Pierre Coffin; Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (The Santa Clause 2, College Road Trip, Horton Hears a Who!, upcoming Hop and The Lorax)
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rated PG
Tagline: "Superbad. Superdad."

Plot Summary: The diabolical super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has a plot to steal the moon, but to do so, he needs to get his hands on a shrink ray possessed by his arch-nemesis Vector (Jason Segel). To do so, he adopts three orphan girls with hopes they'll get into Vector's lair and get the shrink ray, but Gru suddenly finds himself falling for the little girls' charm and having to act more like a father to them.


With Pixar's Toy Story 3 having been in theaters for three weeks now and last week's The Last Airbender receiving scathing reviews and bad word-of-mouth that should kill its second weekend, there's presumably room for a new family-friendly animated movie. Along comes Universal who is not a studio who has had great success with animation, their last attempt being the holiday-released fantasy The Tale of Despereaux. This time, they have a movie that falls more into the realm of Brad Bird's The Incredibles, DreamWorks Animation's Monsters vs. Aliens or Disney's Meet the Robinsons in that its central character is a supervillain and the movie is clearly trying to tap into an older geek audience as well as younger kids and their parents.

Despicable Me will mainly be trying to benefit from the abundance of comic talent, including a lot of Judd Apatow's people, an odd dichotomy since most of them have appeared in R-rated movies, and there's nothing to say any of their teen or older fans will have much interest in a kids' movie.

First and foremost is Steve Carell, who got a big break when Apatow cast him in his first movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin shortly after the start the hit NBC sitcom "The Office." Carell's had a number of hits in recent years, but he's also a regular voiceover actor in animated movies like Over the Hedge and Horton Hears a Who!. He also starred in Universal's PG Evan Almighty, a sequel to the far-more-successful Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty in which Carell played a small part. Because of this previous success, Carell is really the biggest sell for the movie, and he's appeared in various promos and probably will appear on some talk shows this week to support the movie even if this isn't his best character.

Jason Segel has been part of Apatow's crew going back to "Freaks and Geeks," getting his big break when he co-starred in Knocked Up and then got his own starring vehicle Forgetting Sarah Marshall along with Russell Brand, who also provides a voice for this. Brand went on to star in that movie's recent follow-up Get Him to the Greek, which has only done moderately well this summer. Both guys are doing the talk show rounds to help support the movie. Other voice roles include Danny McBride, Kristen Wiig, Jack MacBrayer (from "30 Rock") and Mindy Kaling (from "The Office."), with Wiig doing the most previous animation work before. Even with so many funny people providing voices, most of them tend to be better known for their R-rated movies and there's nothing to say that any of the actor's teen and older fans will have any interest in a kids' movie. On the other hand, the biggest draw for girls--who normally might not be interested in a movie about a supervillain--is the presence of Miranda Cosgrove, the star of the popular Nickelodeon show "iCarly," who has also been doing the rounds promoting the movie including an appearance at the MTV Movie Awards with Segel. Cosgrove is on her way to being the next Miley Cyrus, so having her in this movie is pretty big, although having Cyrus in Disney's Bolt didn't do much to help that movie do well against the first Twilight movie.

At this point, there have been so many computer-animated movies released in the past few years, they literally run the gamut of enormous blockbuster hits to absolute and total flops. Unfortunately, unless you're a movie made by Pixar or DreamWorks Animation or Blue Sky Studios (makers of the "Ice Age" movies), you're really taking a chance by spending a ton of money to make and market a computer-animated film, assuming it will do as well. Sony Animation Studios took some time to get off the ground, having had a summer bomb with Surf's Up, not helped by the release of the Oscar-winning Happy Feet months earlier, but they rebounded and had a solid hit last year with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Warner Bros. had Happy Feet while Disney has had a couple of moderate CG-animated hits coming out of their own animation house. Universal only has The Tale of Despereaux under their belt in terms of 3D animation, though at least Despicable Me is closer in tone to hits by other studios.

As we've learned many times, just because a movie has a funny voice cast, that doesn't necessarily mean a movie is funny, and Universal doesn't seem to care much about even mentioning the former, instead focusing their marketing on the odd "Minions" of Gru, which have been everywhere for the last few months. It's a smart move since the cute critters will be targeting the women and kids who'll find them adorable. The older guys who are likely to find them annoying will probably be seeing Predators anyway. The trailers and commercials are funny enough, but they focus too much on these minions, who play a relatively small part in a movie that doesn't really break new ground. Following after such strong animated films as Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon, this one really doesn't stand out and it's not likely to get overwhelmingly positive reviews, which would normally help a movie. Universal has also taken a cue from Pixar and other animation studios by putting these minions in commercials for Best Buy and IHOP (the latter being an odder choice knowing that Universal has another animated movie coming up that was once called "IHOP.")

Universal could really use an animated hit because currently, they're behind all the other major studios in terms of CG animation, except maybe Summit, and having this movie break out can go a long way toward getting more money to develop their animated films. (They have a couple in the works, including a Dr. Seuss adaptation.)

At this point, the fact that the movie is being released in 3D is almost a non-issue, because every animated movie seems to be, but the backlash on 3D has begun, and it's doubtful people will want to pay for the high-priced tickets. Either way, there should certainly be a number of families with small kids who've already seen the other choices who'll give this a look, but it certainly won't seem like a priority for anyone, so it'll probably end up in the lower-mid range for a computer animated movie.

Why I Should See It: This has a nice premise, a great voice cast and lots of those adorable (or annoying) minions.
Why Not: Toy Story 3 is a really hard act to follow for any animated movie.
Projections: $22 to 25 million opening weekend and roughly $75 million total.


What? $75 million? Naw! You can't review a movie based on opinions like this. Incredibles made hundreds of millions. This one is going to do at least $135 million, and it has a chance at breaking $200 million domestic.

And having adult comedians works. It worked for Madagascar, Ice Age, and Shrek. The kids want to go because of the cute kids and minions, the boys like the super hero theme, and the parents say, "Sure. Why not. Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig are in it." It works!

What do you think?


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