Movie Review: Despicable Me

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Directors: Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 8-14

Genre: Humor, Science Fiction

Plot: Gru has a plan to become the most renowned super-villain of all time: he wants to steal the moon. But he just can’t seem to get funding from the bank for his project. They’ve told him he needs to prove his abilities by acquiring an existing shrink ray, currently held by another villain, Vector, who was made famous by his successful theft of the Great Pyramid of Giza. But Vector’s fortress is impenetrable- or is it? Vector seems to have a weakness for cookies sold by the local orphanage, and Gru begins to hatch a new plan. He will adopt some orphans of his own to help him acquire the shrink ray. Little does he know that the orphans have plans of their own. They want a family, and they’re going to do their best to get Gru to let them stick around. But can a super villain really be won over by three young girls? Especially girls who like unicorns, the color pink, and take ballet?

Review: This movie was hilarious and heartwarming, all at once. I found myself tearing up multiple times, only to be laughing again moments later. Gru certainly has only evil intentions at the beginning of the film, and one can’t help but feel bad for the girls he has chosen to involve in his plan. But despite his desire to be unlikeable and villainous, the girls seem to see through his tough exterior almost instantly and set about trying to make a real dad out of him. The few flashbacks we see of Gru throughout his life, constantly being turned down and passed over by those from whom he would seek approval makes you really feel bad for the man and his memory of these times is ultimately what breaks him down and makes him human again. Filled with lots of humor to keep kids laughing along the way, this movie is not only fun but moving too. Great for all ages.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Light vs. Dark/Good vs. Evil,

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Gru: A man who wants nothing more than to pull off the biggest heist in history, bringing him super-villain level fame. Gru wants to steal a shrink ray so that he can then shrink and steal the moon. We learn throughout the course of the movie that even as a child Gru wanted to visit the moon, but no one thought he was capable. It was this constant lack of respect that drove him to desire to steal the moon for himself.

Vector: A younger, up-and-coming super-villain, made famous by his successful theft of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He is the current holder of a working shrink ray, which Gru needs to make his plan a reality.

Agnes, Edith, and Margo: The three young orphan girls that Gru decides to adopt as part of his plan to steal the shrink ray. Vector once let them into his fortress to buy the cookies they were selling, and Gru hopes to use the girls to get into the fortress himself. Once that part of the plan is complete, Gru plans to send the girls back to the orphanage- or leave them at an amusement park.

Bibliographic Info:

Coffin, P. (Director), Renaud, C. (Director), Cohen, J. (Producer), Healy, J. (Producer), & Meledandri, C. (Producer). (2010). Despicable Me [Motion picture]. United States: Illumination Entertainment.

Tagline:

Can a super-villain ever be a super dad?

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The Tale of Despereaux

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Author: Kate DiCamillo

Age Range: 7-12 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 7-12

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: This is the story of a very tiny mouse who was a disappointment to his family. He was smaller than he should have been, and terrible at everything a mouse should be good at. He was strange, and the other mice did not understand his ways. But Despereaux was special: he could read! And his ability introduced him to the importance of story, and the idea of knights and princesses and duty and honor. So when he finally met a real life princess, it makes perfect sense that he fell in love with the human girl and knew he would do everything it took to honor her. This is also the story of how other people wished to take revenge on the princess, and ultimately how Despereaux was tested to see how far his love for the princess could carry him. Will a tiny little mouse be able to brave the dungeon and ultimately save the princess from her terrible fate?

Review: This book was incredibly sweet. I loved the approach, telling the story from each of the main characters’ points of view  (Despereaux, Chiaroscuro, and Miggery Sow) and allowing you to see each of their personal pasts before telling you how they all three were wound together. I also enjoyed the sense of humor and repeating tendency to directly address the reader and invite them to make the story more personal (check your dictionary for definitions, relate the story to your own experience, etc.). The main character might be a mouse, but he is very much humanized and I think very easy for children to relate to. It is common to feel like you don’t fit in with your family, to feel different from your own kind and sometimes not realize that those differences are alright (even good), and can be used to your advantage or as strengths. And the emphasis of the importance and value of “story” and “light” is ultimately uplifting and encouraging.

Themes: Being Different, Light vs. Dark, Coming of Age, Prejudice (species, in this case)

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 2004

Adaptations: This book was made into an animated film in 2008.

Main Characters:

Despereaux: A mouse, smaller than normal and very different form all of the other mice in the castle. After letting himself be seen by the King and even be touched by the Princess Pea, Despereaux is turned in by his own brother and father and exiled to the dungeon by the Council of Mice (basically a death sentence). But when meeting the princess, Despereaux fell in love with her and will fight to get back to the light and keep her safe from harm.

Chiaroscuro: A rat, born in darkness but desiring a life filled with light. When he finally gets to experience it, he is shunned and sent back to the darkness where he begins to plot his revenge on the Princess. He is forever obsessed with the brilliance and beauty of the light, and ultimately will try to capture the Princess and teach her a lesson.

Miggery Sow: An unlucky girl who was sold into slavery by her father after her own mother’s death. Miggery is often beaten, to the point of losing her hearing. Unfortunately, she is also not very smart and quite lazy. After seeing the Princess Pea on her seventh birthday, her only wish is to also be a princess.  Instead, she ends up working in the castle and is eventually tricked into helping Chiaroscuro take his revenge on the Princess Pea.

Princess Pea: The Princess of the castle, still dealing with the passing of her mother. Princess Pea is fond of Despereaux and becomes angry with her father for not allowing her to befriend the mouse. She becomes the object of Despereaux’s affection, Miggery Sow’s dreams, and Chiaroscuro’s revenge.

Bibliographic Info:

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

Despereaux is a very different mouse. But often being different just means you’re destined for adventure.