Rated PG. Our ratings: V -2; L -1; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 38 min.
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
It’s the summer movie desert time of year when all the boom-boom, chase-chase blockbusters are dominating the screens, so it should come as no surprise that at the moment of this writing two of the most watchable films are two children’s animated films. (The other being The Croods—I haven’t seen Planes as of this writing.)
The once villainous Gru (voice of Steve Carell) has become the doting foster father of three little girls when he is recruited by curvaceous agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) of a spy agency called the Anti-Villain League to investigate a super villain who has a serum that can change the loveable little minions that serve Gru and others into vicious little monsters.
Lots of fun and laughter here—some which the children love, and some which is a bit over their heads but which adults will find amusing, such as the latter bedtime exchange between Gru and one of his little girls. Agnes observes, “I know what makes you a boy,” to which Gru, thinking she’s arrived at the age when a child needs a frank talk, “Uh… You do?” Answering with the certainty of the young child, “Your bald head.” Relieved (that that frank talk is still in the future) Gru says, “Oh, yes.” Agnes draws an imaginary line around Gru’s head, “It’s really smooth. Sometimes I stare at it, I imagine a little chick popping out.” She imitates a newly hatched chick, “Peep-peep-peep-peep.” “ Good night, Agnes,” Gru says as he gives her a good night kiss. To us he says, “Never get older.”
There is one caveat in that the good people are all white and the villains are Hispanic. I hope this is unconscious, but it must send a message nonetheless that whites are good and people of darker skins are suspect. (I almost included “foreign accents,” but Gru himself is either Russian or eastern European.) If I were working at an inner-city church, could I really take a group of children to see this, many of whom would be Hispanic? Are the filmmakers like those of the old days before the civil rights movement sensitized us to the way in which blacks were once depicted—lazy, unambitious, scheming and lying, and not very bright, but at least born with a talent for rhythm and dancing?
The full review with a set of 6 questions for use with children appears in the Sep/Oct issue of Visual Parables, which will be available on Sep. 23 when VP’s new site is launched