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Ink & Pixel: Despicable Me

07.09.2015

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

Pardon me if I sound like your grandfather, right now, but back in my day we used to play make-believe. Whether we were pretending to be the soldiers of G.I Joe, Ninja Turtles, or Masters of the Universe, I'd often found myself choosing to assume the role of the villain. Why, you might ask? I suppose that even back then I found characters like The Baroness, Shredder, and Evil Lyn to be more interesting and dynamic than your garden variety hero. I'm fairly certain that's why I took such a liking to Gru, the “villain” from DESPICABLE ME. He's a man that revels in his own villainy. I get that. You should always be proud of your work.

Unleashed upon the United States in the Summer of 2010, DESPICABLE ME is a 3D computer-animated action-comedy distributed by Universal Pictures, and is a first-time production effort from Illumination Entertainment. Directed by Pierre Coffin (WE'RE BACK! A DINOSAUR'S STORY) and Chris Renaud (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS), and created using an original story by Sergio Pablos (RIO), this wildly funny film shows us what happens when you mix the delicate reality of becoming an adoptive parent  with the oft-clashing sinister priorities of the world's most notorious super-villain.

The film revolves around the character of Gru (Steve Carell) - a notoriously fiendish villain responsible for many of the world's most heinous crimes, and his latest caper involving a sure-fire way in which to steal the moon. Now, even for Gru this is a lofty venture, and as such will require a hefty loan from The Bank of Evil. With a positive mental attitude and several blueprints tucked beneath his skinny arm, Gru presents his elaborate and evil plan to the bank, only to find himself denied. After much pleading, the bank agrees to aid Gru in his plan, but not until he can procure an essential and elusive component – a shrink-ray device.

Undaunted, Gru - with the help of his minion compatriots - successfully obtains the shrink-ray from a testing facility overseas. Yup. It looked as if everything was coming up Milhouse for our friend Gru. That is until Vector (Jason Segel) - a younger, up-and-coming rival super-villain - takes the device for himself, leaving Gru in the lurch. Desperate to get his stolen property back (and after many failed attempts to breach Vector's impenetrable lair) Gru discovers that the only individuals fortunate enough to gain access to his arch-nemesis' home are three cookie-selling, orphaned girls. Some shady paperwork and a few white lies later, Gru adopts the three young ladies – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gailer), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) – then once again initiates his plot to steal the moon.

In my time researching DESPICABLE ME I've discovered a wealth of interesting tidbits about the making of the film, as well as its computer generated cast. For example: during its early days, the script called for Gru to face off against a super hero-type character rather than the bespectacled and bothersome Vector. However, Paul and Daurio soon felt as if they were working within a concept that had been done-to-death, and decided to shake things up a little by supplanting the super-hero with yet another super-villain. Thus, Vector was created, and served as the ever-burrowing thorn in Gru's side. Personally, I think Vector was a remarkable addition to the cast; his actions create opportunities in which Gru often gets to be the hero of the film.  

While we're on the topic of character origins, let's discuss the three little ladies who, together, taught Gru that the challenges that come with being a father can seem more evil than even his best laid plans. During the early drafts of the film's script, the characters of Margo, Edith, and Agnes were little more than adorable devices to move the plot along. Knowing that this simply would not do, Cinco and Daurio focused on re-writing the children with the intention of enriching their contribution to the story.

To determine their personalities, writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio considered their varying ages and physical appearances as stepping stones when creating these delightful ladies. The eldest, Margo, with her neat ponytail and book-smarts, became a studious as well as curious foil to Gru's negligence. Edith, the middle-age trouble-maker, dressed in her cotton-candy-pink toque and hoodie combo, was poised to become the rebel of the lot. Finally, there's the adorable Agnes. With giant, wondering eyes, and penchant for all things fluffy, Agnes was created with the purpose of being the one who would wear Gru down, and eventually turn his uncaring, black heart into a roaring furnace of love and devotion. For what it's worth, I think these three rapscallions make the film, and are instrumental in orchestrating the biggest sea change regarding Gru's contempt for humanity.

With the girls nestled tightly into their dormant-bomb beds, let's discuss the film's break-out characters, the Minions. Would you believe that it was never the intention of the DEPICABLE ME team for the Minions to be the film's luminary characters? In fact, during the early-planning-stages of the film, the Minions were poised to scarcely receive any screen-time whatsoever. It wasn't until later, after viewing a series of animatics and storyboard sequences, that the writers and animators realized that key scenes involving Gru felt awkward without other characters being present. Essentially, in order to execute his plans, Gru would need help, and that's exactly what the Minions were destined to do.

In terms of design, the Minions were inspired by a number of every-day objects including: Twinkies, Tylenol capsules, and even tennis balls. If you look carefully, you'll note that the Minions are built using one of 3 different body shapes. Now, the Minions are genetically engineered clones, so of course there will be similarities in their appearance. As a result, the artists and animators designed a total of 6 different hair-styles that the Minions could sport, in addition to multiple ways in which to fashion their eyes.

By the end of its theatrical run, DESPICABLE ME had earned a worldwide total of $543,113,985! That's $474,113,985 above its $69 million dollar budget! I would imagine that with that kind of money Gru wouldn't need a loan from the Bank of Evil for quite some time. Since the film's release, DESPICABLE ME has received a feature-length sequel (DESPICABLE ME 2), and will soon be raking in that Minion money with the release of a spin-off film entitled MINIONS. What's that? You haven't had enough of this franchise? You want more, do you? Well, you're in luck then, because plans for DESPICABLE ME 3 are already in motion with an expected release date some time in the year 2017.

Okay, honesty time. I've been a big fan of DESPICABLE ME since it's first teaser trailer. I like the complexity of Gru's character and how the three young ladies he lives with challenge his worth as a villain, and as a parent. I really dig the Cold War aesthetic of Gru's swanky lair, as well as his drive and ambition to be the best at what he does. Also, can I get a fist pump for Lucy (Kristen Wiig), Gru's energetic, savvy, and sassy love interest from the second film? Not only was she the best animated character of 2013, she also makes a mean batch of cupcakes. What? You don't like cupcakes? Oh, so you're one of those “I only like cake or muffins” types, huh? I see how it is. Till next time then. Cheers!

      

Extra Tidbit: Gargamel, Dr. Claw, Magica de Spell, Fat Cat, Syndrome. The list of notable animated villains is endless. Why not tell us some of your favorite animated villains in the comment section below?

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