It isn't fair to compare every singer to Luciano Pavarotti, every writer to Ernest Hemingway, every walking miracle to Ozzy Osbourne. So why should every animated feature be held to the same standards as Disney-Pixar?
The other studios invite the comparisons by repeatedly trying to create another "Up" or "The Incredibles" instead of carving out their own styles. The latest hopeful is Universal's "Despicable Me," which makes a valiant effort and just barely clears the bar.
The 3-D is unnecessary, as usual, but the movie has its pleasures. One is Steve Carell as the voice of Gru, a supervillain with a vaguely Russo-Slavic accent ("You have got to be pullink on my leg!"). Bumbling and socially awkward - in other words, classic Carell - Gru yearns for infamy but achieves mostly nuisance status, bending fenders and freeze-raying customers in the latte line.
"Despicable Me" has fun normalizing the life of a villain: Gru grovels for a loan from The Bank of Evil ("Formerly Lehman Brothers," natch) and makes do with second-rate help, including the near-deaf Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand, doing a decent John Cleese) and various babbling Minions. Gru also faces a new villain, the snotty young Vector (Jason Segel).
Cuteness arrives in the form of three little orphan girls who become key to Gru's convoluted plan to steal the moon. They, of course, trigger flashbacks to Gru's own childhood: He really just wanted to be an astronaut. Julie Andrews, as nasty Mama Gru, gives a few mocking grunts.
Speaking of villains: A certain retail company is pushing a despicable cell-phone application that will translate the Minions' chattering - during the closing credits.Where's a freeze-ray when you need one?
Back Story: Steve Carell times two
Steve Carell is doing double duty this summer: Not only does he provide the lead voice in "Despicable Me" (opening Friday), he's also starring in the comedy "Dinner for Schmucks" (July 30).
In "Despicable Me," Carell's character is an aspiring supervillain whose scheme to steal the moon is interrupted by three orphan girls aiming to adopt him as their dad.