Animated hit Despicable Me gives Steve Carell a role with a touch of evil while Jemaine Clement spouts gibberish, writes, Katherine Tulich.
He may play an evil bald-headed villain with a menacing Eastern European accent, but comedian Steve Carell insists he found inspiration for his character Gru in the new 3D animated feature, Despicable Me from his two children. "I was drawn to just the whole idea of a terrible, evil villain, adopting these three children, I'd never seen that in a family movie before," says Carell.
"And the fact that I am a dad, that's one of the aspects I really related to. He adopts these three girls for his own evil purposes but he soon finds they're affecting him in an emotional way, against his better judgement. Kids do change your life and I think that's something parents can respond to."
With the onslaught of 3D animated movies, Despicable Me, which has already proven to be a summer box office hit in the United States, stands out as an irreverent and inventive family film. Gru is a career villain who doesn't quite seem to have the chops to live up to his reputation. He has a mother who constantly berates him and a young upstart villain, Vector, whose favourite weapon spurts live piranha and who seems to foil all of Gru's outlandish plots. Gru is set to make one last stand to seal his reputation. He plans to steal the moon with a giant shrink gun, and enlists the help of three orphan sisters, only to find them more than a match for his evil ways.
According to producer Chistopher Meledandri it was Carell's inventive voice work that really stamped the movie's central character. "With a lot of great movie villains when you think of them you think of the voice," he says. "Steve had this instinct about doing an accent for the role. It wasn't planned in the script. He just came up with it in the sound booth."
Says Carell: "I like the fact that there's a little bit of darkness, but that being said; you have to walk that fine line between something that's too dark, that's actually repellent, and something that's potentially fun and playful. I wanted the voice to be a little bit menacing, but playful at the same time, so I think that's why it's a conglomeration of different accents, non-descript but specific at the same time."
Most of the well-known voice talent, which includes Russell Brand, teen superstar Miranda Cosgrove and Saturday Night Live's Will Arnett and Kristen Wiig are almost unrecognisable as they morph themselves into outlandish characters.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall star Jason Segel who plays the nerdy Vector says it was a chance for the actors to really push their limitations. "I think they did something smart, before we started filming. They gave me a sketch of Vector, and I hung it above my desk, and I had a long time to figure out how I wanted this guy to talk, and it was great to have a sketch of something that looked totally different from me," he says. "I think that's why the movie is so cool because all these actors who are really capable and great are doing things that they wouldn't be able to do if it was live action."
For Julie Andrews who plays Gru's even more despicable mum it was a chance to break from her prim British image. "I was surprised when they asked me to do it. I thought, Mary Poppins doing this? I mean she is this deliciously awful woman who is so self-involved she doesn't even know how evil she is," says Andrews.
Despite the A-list voice talent, it's the pint-sized yellow minions who play Gru's bumbling helpers who really steal the show. They were conceived after the script was already written. "When we did the Ice Age movies it was the same scenario. Scrat was thought of later and became one of the most memorable characters," says Meledandri. "It was the same with the minions who were conceived by our co-director Pierre Coffin. He felt that if Gru is going to try to steal the moon, he needs some help and he came up with these little yellow guys." Coffin enlisted Flight of the Conchords Jemaine Clement to help voice the gibberish-spouting creatures. "We're big fans of Jemaine so it was great to have him come in and help out with all the voices," says Meledandri.
Animated in France, Meledandri says the film has benefitted from its international input. "I think we have a look that is part Gothic and part Addams Family and really is distinct from most American animated films," he says.
With cinema screens swamped with animation these days Carell agrees it's hard to impress audiences. "There is a lot of big animation and big franchises out there so to carve out a slot is challenging. I think this one stands out because it looks different and the story is so unique," he says.
What: Despicable Me, new 3D animated movie Stars the voices of: Steve Carrell, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand, Jason Segel, Jemaine Clement among others
When and where: Advance screenings this weekend and opens at cinemas on Thursday September 16