In the summer of 2013, college buddies Haley Ioppini and Mary Alice Wintz needed something to do, so they decided to go see Despicable Me 2 in a crowded multiplex. They proceeded to see every single Despicable Me movie in theatres together after that — yes, they went to see Minions opening weekend, for some reason — and adopted the films as a constant in their friendship. This past weekend, they revisited the only film in the franchise they didn’t see together, the very first one, and discussed it eleven years on while marathoning the whole series.
Haley Ioppini (HI): I forgot how genuinely good this movie is.
Mary Alice Wintz (MA): Right from the beginning, too. There’s a lot of sequences that set up the characters with nothing but visual cues. The first scene with Gru wandering around town being petty does that really well.
HI: There is so much good nonverbal slapstick chaos in this series. Like Gru making the balloon animal for the kid only to pop it in his face — that really establishes what kind of evil Gru is. He’s not a monster, but he’s petty and kind of a dick.
MA: And we go from that to him knowing all of the Minions by name. The movie takes 30 minutes to get to its main plot, but there’s no filler there. We meet Gru, we establish how the Minions relate to him and their linguistics and culture and lives when they aren’t working for Gru…
HI: It’s funny to watch this knowing that the Minions become these huge cultural boondoggles after this movie. I forgot that their main appeal to me was how they’re chaotic failures at basically everything they do.
MA: I love how the humans interact with Minions in this movie. They’ll watch them and think they’re weird but they don’t really…do anything to stop them.
HI: People in this movie put up with a lot of weirdness.
MA: Anyways, in the first 30 minutes, we meet Gru, establish everything about his past and how he’s getting loans from the Bank of Evil. But we also see the girls’ lives at the orphanage before they meet Gru. Miss Hattie is the worst person in this movie by a long shot — Gru’s mom isn’t the greatest, but Miss Hattie is painful in such a realistic way.
HI: Oh my god, yes. It’s interesting how this movie is based slightly more in reality —
MA: As based in reality as something with a squid gun can get.
HI: — right, but there’s a bank, Gru talks to the Minions like they’re a standard workforce. There’s some really morbid humor in here, too. The next few movies get more and more ridiculous, but this one somehow feels more earthbound despite, y’know, everything about its concept.
MA: I think that helps to make Gru’s growing bond with the girls feel real.
HI: That feels really natural. I think it’s the best part of the movie.
MA: He adopts them as part of his plan to steal the moon, sure, but Gru takes basically the whole movie to accept them into his life. He doesn’t immediately love them fully after going to the amusement park with them, which is what I think most movies would do. He’s still not reading them bedtime stories or sacrificing his dreams for theirs. We know Gru isn’t totally terrible, but he’s never parented, he has no idea what raising kids entails. Hell, him growing as a parent continues into the second and third movies, even.
HI: Exactly. I think their relationship offsets some of the movie’s weaker material with the villain, Vector, who is leagues less interesting than everyone else in the film.
MA: That squid gun might be useful for something.
HI: I have to give props to Jason Segel — not only did I have no idea he played Vector until we looked it up, he is incredibly obnoxious in a believable way.
MA: Him shrinking everything in his bathroom just because is great.
HI: God, I love that. “Curse you, tiny toilet!” The voice acting in this movie is really solid in general; I know all of these people were big names but they all clearly made the effort to play characters and not just use their standard speaking voices.
MA: Speaking of prominent animation trends of the time, I also like how the bits of this movie designed for 3D hold up well in 2D. The end sequence with the Minions trying to get to the camera works because the whole point is them trying to touch the camera.
HI: The bit with the rocket needle coming towards the screen looks pretty good too. And this movie’s colors pop so brightly, it doesn’t have the murkiness problem some later 3D movies had.
MA: I had to stop seeing certain 3D action movies because that used to drive me so crazy. But back to Vector, I have to also point out that stealing the moon would be catastrophic. We would all die without its gravitational pull.
HI: Yeah, like I said, everything outside of the central relationship-building between Gru and the girls and Gru and the Minions is a little weak.
MA: But those relationships are so good. Each girl’s relationship with Gru is different, and they’re all developed as different people. If you compare Margo, the oldest girl, with Agnes, the youngest, they have varying ideas and desires they want Gru to realize. It works really well to not have them characterized as a unit. That makes the Minions special, too, honestly. They’re individually named and we see that Minions have individual personalities and drives.
HI: And the Minion personalities stay so consistent throughout each film. Dave is always the colossal fuck-up in every movie, Jerry is the nominally more responsible one, and so on and so forth.
MA: Exactly! They really made these characters that could be one-dimensional more rounded and memorable.
HI: It’s easier for me to overlook things like the standard animated-movie-ending dance party because of the character work, for sure. It’s the nonverbal scenes and the way that individualizing these characters that would be very easy to group together makes interactions feel more personal and the montages that push forward multiple character plotlines at once.
MA: And I don’t even mind the dance party at the end, because of the little details in it. The girls doing their ballet recital can’t do everything. The filmmakers definitely captured how badly little kids dance.
HI: It’s interesting to watch this in connection with the other movies in the franchise, because I think the second one continues to have nicely detailed character work. The third one is all over the place but the elements of it that work do because they keep building on those relationships and show us more of the Despicable Me world.
MA: That’s why we keep seeing them, right? They lure you in with the really slapstick nonsense and the mascot characters, and then you stay for the family bonding time.
HI: It’s the perfect formula!