Before Despicable Me even hit theaters, it was clear that Universal was throwing a ton of cash to generate interest. In this reviewer’s case, the strategy actually backfired, as I grew tired of seeing those little yellow minions before I even knew what the film was about. But then it released on the big screen, and several people said Despicable Me was the funniest movie they’d seen all year. My interest was piqued. When Universal announced that Despicable Me would release not only on Blu-ray, but on 3D Blu-ray and with D-BOX support, the only thing keeping me from getting the movie right then and there was the fact that it wasn’t released yet.
Despicable Me releases on 3D Blu-ray today (Dec. 14), but I’ve had the good fortune to get an early copy and review it in all its three-dimensional glory. The movie definitely generates its fair share of belly laughs, and the minions — I’m embarrassed to say — are not only funny, but downright adorable at times. In a “I love that farting little kid” sort of way. The plot, though predictable, is original and fun, but it’s the 3D that really impresses, particularly considering it’s an animated film.
Despicable Me comes from the minds of Illumination Entertainment, an upstart animation company that, if this movie is an accurate indicator of their talent, could very well contend with Pixar for best CG imagery ever. I was skeptical about the 3D presentation, though, because several previous CG releases haven’t looked as good on 3D Blu-ray as their live-action counterparts. The opening menus had me intrigued with 3D Minions walking on outstretched plungers and playing with a paddle ball, but menus and feature films are two very different beasts. How would the full-length film actually perform in 3D? One word: brilliantly.
Despicable Me follows the story of Gru, a super villain whose reputation for badness has been threatened by an up-and-coming villain named Vector. Gru hatches a plot to regain the title of most nefarious villain by shrinking and stealing the moon. The only problem: Vector is after the super-secret shrink-ray gun as well, putting the men on a collision course for Austin Powers-like battles. To gain the upper hand, Gru adopts little three orphaned girls to help him break into Vector’s compound by selling him “robot cookies.” Yet when Gru starts to develop father-like feelings for the girls, he discovers that some things are more important than being the world’s naughtiest villain. Like dinner and bed time at reasonable hours.
Throughout the film, Illumination uses multiple 3D effects that show they’re not taking themselves, or the technology, too seriously. Ironically, that helps make Despicable Me so effective in 3D: it’s not afraid to have fun, and “fun” is exactly what 3D needs to be and achieve in order to reach its full potential.
The movement of characters from the background to the foreground have great dimension, such as when Gru zooms into his chair to drop down into his “bat cave” to unveil his moon-stealing scheme to the minions. But even Gru by himself presents some 3D effects, as his nose protrudes rather far off of his face, perhaps no scene illustrating this effect as hilariously as one in which he leans into a urinal to go into the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers). Between his reflection in the urinal and his actual schnoz, the effect is simply fantastic.
Part of this effectiveness is due to the lighting, which is really a calling card for the film on the whole. Any sense of dimension is predicated on objects not just looking like they have depth, but on their “believability” as 3D objects in the given environment. This depends in large part on the scene’s and objects’ lighting. For instance, when viewers first really get to spend some time with the three little girls as they walk through the street to the orphanage, it’s obvious that the girls are animated, but they look as though they’re really walking through a real life street. Soft lighting really does the trick here, as it does throughout the film, proving that 3D can really take CG films to the next level if done with care.
Despicable Me looks absolutely fantastic from beginning to end, and it really only has one or two very minor instances of crosstalk ghosting. From ice shattering and characters running to and from the camera, all the way to ray guns blasting toward the viewer and vehicles swerving through the street and air, the 3D effects are never in short supply. Part of this, again, can be attributed to the film never taking itself or its 3D too seriously. Vector makes regular use of piranha- and squid-shooting guns, for instance, while a shark repeatedly jumps out of the water and a rocket’s needle-like nose creeps dangerously close to the camera. These “gotcha” moments are all based on the principle of having fun with 3D, and they fit perfectly with the tone of Despicable Me and its main supervillain characters.
There are a few pitfalls with Despicable Me, but none of them is grievous enough to keep me from adding Despicable Me to my small-but-growing collection of “show the friends” 3D Blu-rays. For starters, almost every scene with a minion standing in front of a large crowd provides some powerful 3D effects, but when there isn’t a strong character or graphical element in the foreground, it can be hard to get a sense of depth. Also, the audio balancing leaves quite a bit to be desired, as you frequently have to adjust the volume between scenes with dialogue and those with action.
In terms of bonus features, though, Universal makes up some serious ground. None of the bonus features is presented in 3D, as is the case with most 3D Blu-ray releases, so you have to insert the “normal” 2D Blu-ray Disc to see what’s included. But the sheer number of bonuses makes it worth your while to get off the sofa and switch those discs.
The highest-profile (and probably best) Despicable Me bonus features are three new mini-movies created specifically for this release: Orientation Day, Home Makeover and Banana. It’s quite impressive how much energy was put into these shorts, because in both quality and narrative, they really are miniature movies. In Orientation Day (4:00), a small crew of Minion trainees watches an informational video about the types of things they can expect to encounter on the job. The intentional grain and narration hearkens back to those old-school drivers-ed videos we all endured years ago, but the real humor lies in the interaction of the trainees with the “tenured” Minions. In Home Makeover (3:50), the three little girls from the feature film enlist the help of the Minions to clean up Gru’s house before a social worker makes an unexpected visit to check on the house’s suitability for kids. As you might imagine, a super villain’s house is hardly the place for children, but the solutions the girls come up with are hilarious: placing tennis balls over the spikes in the coffin, putting a clown nose on the dining room skull, and painting the walls pink with a paint-filled bazooka, among other things. Unfortunately, when Gru returns he’s not exactly happy with the results, but that’s to be expected considering they made it all “girly.” The third mini-movie also has a sibling/adolescent feel, albeit for different reasons. Called Banana (3:45), this feature documents the wacky obsession that all Minions appear to have with bananas, then shows them fighting hilariously over a single fruit. The first 2:30 of the short is funny, but I literally laughed out loud for most of the final minute. You can tell that the filmmakers just have a barrel of fun with this world and these characters.
The Super Silly Fun Land bonus feature is a series of three interactive games: Feed the Creatures, Tin Can Alley and Freeze The Minions. Feed the Creatures is a time-based game a la Plinko in which you press the “enter” button at just the right time to drop the ball into a numbered lane. In Tin Can Alley, another timing game, you have to knock down as many cans as possible. The mechanics are similar to field goals in an old Madden NFL game, with one meter for left/right and one for strength of kick — only this time, it’s strength of throw. This one’s harder to control and more complicated than Feed the Creatures, but it’s hard to complain too much considering this is a Blu-ray movie and not a stand-alone video game. Freeze the Minions, though, is flat-out a bad game. The controls are just too sticky to make it anything other than unplayable.
In Miss Hatties Top Secret Cookie Recipies you actually do get six different cookie recipes: Minty Mints, Choco Swirlies, Coconutties, Toffee Totes and Caramel Clumpies. Considering it’s the holiday season and we’re all looking for cookie recipes, this was actually a welcome surprise and will definitely go used in my house even well past the holiday season. Despicable Beats (2:48), on the other hand, is a bit confusing in its inclusion as a bonus feature, both because it’s the shortest soundtrack-related bonus feature I’ve ever seen and because the score is largely forgettable. Why spend time on a bonus feature about it, then?
The interactive Gru’s Rocket Builder (21:36) has you traversing the globe identifying which world landmark is associated with the country shown on the screen. Name it correctly, and you get Gru one step closer to assembling his rocket. This is marginally educational for younger viewers, but identifying pyramids, the Eiffel Tower and whatnot is quite simple for adults.
In The World of Despicable Me (15:16), the directors, screenwriters and cast (including Steve Carell) provide overviews of the characters and settings of Despicable Me, almost like you’d hear in a conversation with friends about what they remember from the plot and why you should see the film. The irony is that just about everyone who’s going to watch this bonus feature will have already watched the movie, rendering it somewhat pointless. If this were released as a pre-release teaser or an infomercial it would make perfect sense. As a bonus feature that most people will watch after seeing the movie, it’s pretty superfluous.
The 16-minute-long The Voices of Despicable Me discusses how the producers and screenwriters decided upon the characters who provide voices for all the characters, followed by interviews with each of the main actors chosen. The vignette with the most potential revoles about Gru, Steve Carell’s character, because his voice is the most distinctive in the film. Yet Carell unfortunately doesn’t talk about his inspiration for the accent, let alone his process of “weeding out” other possible accents for the main character. Seeing Jason Segel’s interview as the voice of Vector is also fun, since most people are more accustomed to seeing him play Marshall in “How I Met Your Mother.” But by far the most surprising voice feature is that of Gru’s mom, who’s voiced by Julie Andrews. Yes, that Julie Andrews. Didn’t see that one coming at all.
Nor did I really see Despicable Me coming out of the gate as so entertaining and fun, let alone as a great 3D Blu-ray experience. I’m glad that my original annoyance at Despicable Me teasers didn’t preclude me from watching this film, and I’m absolutely thrilled that Universal spent as many resources creating a top-notch 3D presentation as they did promoting the film before its release. If you’re at all curious about Despicable Me, this is one Blu-ray set you should seriously consider. And if you have a 3D TV and are looking for some films to add to the showcase pile, Despicable Me is definitely one to put on the list.
Click the following link to check the price at Amazon: Despicable Me (Four-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy). As of press time, the movie’s launching at a 36% discount. Hard to beat that!
- Score: 9
- The plot is entertaining and original, but it’s the 3D that really steals the show. The metric ton of bonus features is a nice touch, and in spite of troubling audio issues, this is one 3D Blu-ray release that’s worth your time.
— Jonas Allen