The opening scene in Aaron Schneider’s marvelous, nuanced Get Low (at Angelika Dallas and Cinemark West Plano) introduces a mystery that isn’t solved until the final reel: a house, barely visible in the darkening gloom, begins to burn, and a man escapes from the second floor and runs away.
The film is about much more than that single, haunting image and, truth be told, isn’t really a mystery. We know that it’s somehow connected to ornery outcast Felix Bush (Robert Duvall, in one of the finest performances of his brilliant career). It’s not even particularly surprising to discover that Felix has many layers that must be unraveled.
Delightful and droll, Despicable Me is also refreshingly modest. And it’s fun.
All animated films fall under the shadow of mighty Pixar, which has set the gold standard. But that doesn’t mean that every animated film must follow the same pattern. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me is less story-driven and more gag-oriented than the typical Pixar outing, and less dialogue-oriented than the usual Dreamworks product. It plays like an interconnected series of skits and blackouts, tied together with the connective tissue of a featherweight fable.
Really, it’s a comic misadventure, featuring a villain as the good guy. Tall and dressed in black, Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) should be a fearsome sight, but instead he’s a bit pathetic and sad. We quickly learn that he only became a villain to win the affections of his unsupportive mother (voiced by Julie Andrews). He’s a lost little boy seeking approval.