In this animated world, villainy is a corporate venture. Master criminals live among the average citizens, clearly out in the open. The gothic mansion of baddie Gru sticks out in the same row of suburban family homes. To fund criminal ventures, the villains apply for loans from the Bank of Evil (formerly known as Lehman Brothers).
Gru (Steve Carell, GET SMART) wants to be the top criminal mastermind, but he has competition in the newcomer Vector (Jason Segal, I LOVE YOU, MAN), who just stole the Great Pyramid, which he has stowed in his backyard, painting it blue so that it blends in with the skyline. Gru; along with his mad scientist cohort Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand, GET HIM TO THE GREEK) and hundreds of his minions, yellow pill-shaped sidekicks who get giddy over troublemaking; go to the Bank of Evil to get the funding for his biggest caper yet — steal the Moon. But before he can get to the Moon, he has to build a rocketship and steal a newly created Chinese shrink ray. The key to getting the ray — three orphans named Margo (Miranda Cosgrove, TV's ICARLY), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher).
Gru adopts the girls as part of his plan. Margo is the oldest and the defacto parent of the trio. Edith is the tough one. Agnes is the youngest and a ball of cuteness. At the orphanage, the girls were forced to sell a quota of cookies or face time in the box of shame. With Gru's pointy nose, penchant for bad disguises and exploitation of orphans, one might think of LEMONY SNICKET'S Count Olaf. But unlike Olaf and his more morose trio of orphans, do you think Gru can resist the softening affects of the adorable munchkins? The other difference between these orphans and the Baudelaire siblings is that they're less individuals and more a collection of traits. Why have three when one would have served the same purpose?
The story is at its best when it's playing with its villain world premise. In addition to some of gags I mentioned earlier, another one of my favorites was the ridiculously elaborate mechanism Gru employs to get into his secret lair. And why even have a secret lair when your house screams criminal mastermind? The minions are also a comic goldmine. They have the mischievousness of Beavis and Butt-head mixed with the energy of a Mexican jumping bean.
While the plot rides along parenting cliches such as making the big recital on time, the film earns its sentiment. One of the funniest and most touching moments comes when a young Gru tells his mom about his desire to go to the Moon. By setting up the emotional side of Gru's plans early on, the story makes for an easy transition to the emotional resolution with the kids.
With the minions providing some great chaotic humor and Gru and orphan's tale the heart, the film has an engaging story to tell. Carell is a star who actually provides a "voice" that matches his animated character. He's a criminal with a soft spot for cute precocious children — why else would he fill his lab with hundreds of rambunctious minions who in addition to evil doing like to photocopy their butts.