It took me 15 minutes or so to warm up to this French-produced digitally animated family film. I was initially disheartened by the gratuitous use of "Sweet Home Alabama," the addition of an MSNBC newsman and a joke about Lehman Brothers -- I feared another too-snarky film tripping over itself to be "cool." But I'm happy to report that Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's film settled in for a story that was funny, clever and increasingly sweet.
Its protagonist is Gru (voiced with a Russian accent by Steve Carrell), an evil inventor and mastermind, hiding in plain sight in a sunny neighborhood. (Well, almost: He has the only dead lawn on the block.) From his underground lair, staffed by thousands of hilariously adorable "minions" (who look like a cross between SpongeBob and a jelly bean), he hatches a plan to steal the moon. But a twist puts Gru in charge of three orphan girls, just when his showdown with a rival villain named Vector (Jason Segal) is heating up.
The storyline is reminiscent of How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- bitter man with hard heart softened by a saucer-eyed child -- and some of the gadgets and gags are worthy of Dr. Seuss. Yet despite a predictable plot, Despicable still feels fresh and fun. (Did I mention those super-cute minions?) Screening in both 2-D and 3-D, but this one is worth seeing with the extra dimension. The animation is crisp and eye-popping, and you'll thrill to the rollercoaster ride and the awesome credits, which you must sit through. Starts Fri., July 9.