Monday, February 21, 2011
Despicable Me -- criminal fathers, benificent gifts
Director: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, 2010. (PG)
"Despicable me" points to the anti-hero, Gru (voice of Steve Carell, Date Night), a master criminal who claims to be the world's greatest villain. Angular and bald with a quirky European accent, middle-aged Gru wants to pull off the world's greatest crime. But when someone else, the younger Vector (voice of Jason Segel), steals the pyramids from Egypt, Gru must devise something bigger and more fiendish: stealing the moon.
From his dark and creepy home in the middle of white-picket suburbia, Gru concocts his schemes with the help of the codgerly Dr. Nefario (voice of Russell Brand), a geriatric criminal, and the army of cute little yellow minions, who live in his basement-turned-super lab. Apparently no one suspects this neighbor to be so evil.
In a series of flashbacks to his childhood, we see Gru seeking to win approval from his mom (voice of Julie Andrews), creating various things including a fully functional rocket. To each one, his mom shows little interest, shrugging him off with an "eh". Clearly he wants to succeed to earn love and favor, and his ambition pushes him in the criminal direction.
Ambition can be a cruel taskmaster or a cheer-leading trainer. It can drive us to succeed or lead us to failure. In Gru's case, it compelled him to seek always bigger and better. He could not face someone being superior to him. Such compulsion is twisted, since rarely will we be the best in the world. We need to face reality with humility. And instead of succumbing to blind ambition to be the best there is, we should focus on being the best we can be, seeking to attain to the fullness of God's ideal in us. He has gifted us in ways that we can develop. If we reach our fullest potential, that will be success. Ambition cannot push us beyond this.
To reach his ambitious goal, Gru needs a shrink-ray and money to create a rocket that will take him to the moon. The shrink-ray comes easy, with the help of Nefario, but when it is stolen by Vector, Gru faces a double dilemma. First, the ray-gun is gone. Second, when he approaches the Bank of Evil for another loan, he is denied. He has been supplanted by Vector as world's greatest super-villain. What a blow to his ambition!
This is a nod to the cultural milieu. We find ourselves today in a society that worships youth and hides the elderly away. Gru's age prevents him getting the loan he needs. If we are over 40, we often find our age preventing us getting the job interview. It is the era of age discrimination.
Determining to get the shrink-ray back, he is thwarted by Vector's cool security contraptions. But Gru notices that three young orphan girls are allowed in, to sell cookies. Gru plots a scheme. He will "adopt" them and use them to gain entry. But in adopting them, he sets up the main premise of the film: can a master-criminal become a master-father?
This is a wonderful question. Master criminals have few morals and so might be considered as poor fathers. But that is to assume that non-criminals have excellent morals and hence good ethics and behaviors. The problem with this train of thought is that criminals and non-criminals alike are sinners. We have all broken the law of God (Rom. 3:23) and stand guilty and condemned before the court of heaven. We may not be criminals in America, but we are nonetheless criminals before God. Our morality may be better than that of Gru, but it remains imperfect and tainted. All have sinned, all are sinners. In God's eyes, we are no better than Gru. If we can be good fathers, so can he.
The three girls, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (voice of Elsie Fisher), are cute. As they invade his home and life, Gru's plans become altered. He must learn to take care of children. His initial command seems reasonable from his perspective but unreal as any parent could tell him: "You will not cry, or sneeze or barf or fart! No annoying sounds." He has much to learn.
Several scenes stand out as hilarious: The ballet practice that Gru must attend, even after his battle of wills with these little ones, showing the patience a parent needs; the parallel parking of his "Gru-mobile" highlighting his lack of concern and superior attitude; the funfair sequence where he must accompany his children on the rides. In this latter scene, little Agnes has the movie's best line when she cries out, about the unicorn she wants to win, "It's so fluffy I could die!" The humor is quick and fast and visual, like Gru's attempt to leave the kids alone by putting food and water on the floor, as if they were dogs.
As you would expect, Gru's criminality does not rub off on these "innocent" waifs. Rather, their lovability rubs off on him, as he changes. This single dad who should be the world's worst father slowly becomes a decent father.
His changes remind us of the words of Jesus: "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:11) We are sinful fathers yet we do not give evil gifts to our kids. No, we take care of them and often shower them with treasures. In contrast, our heavenly father is perfect and good, the true super-father. He gives even better gifts to us than we can imagine. He has done so, in giving us salvation (1 Thess. 5:9) and every spiritul blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). But we are only truly his children if we accept his invitation to join his family through faith in Christ (Jn. 1:12). We may be more like Gru than like Agnes, yet God desires for us be part of his family, and when we do he will change us, little by little, until we become like Christ (Rom. 8:29).
This first film from Illumination Entertainment, the new animation arm of Universal Pictures may not be quite up to the high standard set by Pixar, with such films as Up and the Toy Story trilogy, but it is a worthy introduction. Its animation is good, the characters are strong, and the story is engaging. With a start like this, we can hope for more to come . . . more movies that will entertain and possibly even illuminate our faith.