There are no villains; we’re all heroes in our own story. It’s not like people wake up, roll out of bed and think to themselves “what kind of villainy can I get into?” Well, except for the star of Despicable Me. Its hero, anti-hero, protagonist Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) has an accent somewhere this side of Russia. Not unlike anyone with a job, he wants to be the best at what he does: rise through the ranks, climb the corporate ladder, excel above his peers. So when new villain on the block, Vector (Jason Segel), comes along having stolen the Pyramid at Giza, Gru has to up the ante. He opts to steal the moon. But first he has to steal a shrink ray and his “lightbulb” of a plan involves adopting three little girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher),
“In my eyes, you will always be one of the greats.” –Dr. Nefario
Told in flashbacks, we see the old wounds, lies and disapprovals that shape Gru into the villain he grew up to be. Beauty—in this case, an inner hero—sometimes has believed lies about itself, be it from a parent or a friend or a social group, to the point where it can’t recognize itself. The tragedy is that beauty is so often determined from the outside that we’re left in need of validation. We find ourselves consciously or unconsciously asking “Do you see beauty in me? Am I worth another glance?” We can become trapped in negative stories we’ve come to believe about ourselves and cling to a fundamental insecurity about ourselves to the point where we can recognize beauty in the mirror.
Still the son of a disapproving mom, still possessing desires and ambitions, and still human, Gru is not so far gone that he can’t be loved back to life by the presence of the three orphan girls and the relationship—the connection to his humanity—they represent. Love and acceptance frees him from his “Box of Shame”. We so often hear about God’s divine love and acceptance, how nothing can separate us from His love, but do we believe that? To think that God knows us in the deepest possible way, loves us unconditionally, celebrates who we are, and wants me to grow into who we are, that’s the kind of love we can hardly fathom. And He identifies with our humanity. Christ’s example on the cross left him exposed for everyone to see. Naked for people to mock, spit upon, and pour their own self-contempt on Him. Yet Jesus willingly embraced it and came through the other side. His wounded place exposes shame for what it is. Exposed, trusting and with boldness, we’re free and ready to love others in our weakness. To live out of that reality of His example.
“Tonight we’re going to read a new book.” –Gru
Finding and accepting this love, Gru begins to (literally) write a new story. One where the “big unicorn” realizes that he isn’t built to buy into the myth of the rugged individual, but rather was created for community and relationship. A story where he opts to create family adopting into his life the girls, his minions, his assistant Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and even his mom (a shrewdly cast Julie Andrews). And he lives the life of a changed and redeemed heart full of love.
Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (working from an original idea by Sergio Pablos) use our familiarity with a number of animated features (from Shrek to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to Monster’s Inc to Ratatouille) as capstones to build a new story. Despicable Me has some clever moments, in which the sheer amount of jokes thrown at the audience (with the subtlety of the 3D animation it employs) teetered on trumping the narrative for a while but eventually came together as a cohesive whole.