Despicable Me traces the exploits of self-proclaimed villain Gru (Steve Carell), whose life goal is to be internationally recognised as a master criminal. To achieve this goal, Gru has enlisted the help of sinister inventor Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) and hundreds of cute yellow creatures called ‘minions’. During flashbacks to Gru’s youth, it becomes clear that his motivation comes from the lack of acknowledgement and love he received as a child.
Gru learns that geeky rival villain Vector (Jason Segal) has successfully stolen one of the Giza pyramids. So Gru becomes convinced that he must do something of even greater magnitude to gain the notoriety he craves. He therefore plans to steal Vector’s ‘shrinking laser’ gun to shrink and steal the moon. But gaining access to Vector’s heavily armed fortress proves almost impossible.
Gru comes across three orphan children (Margo, Agnes and Edith, played by Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier). He thinks they might be able to help him become a master criminal. Initially, his relationship with the girls is very stilted. But as time passes, he comes to appreciate the fullness they bring to his life. When it appears that success is imminent, Gru realises he must make a choice that might change all their lives.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Childhood emotional trauma; separation from a parent
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
This movie contains a great deal of violence. For example:
- A television newscast shows soldiers firing rifles at unseen human targets.
- An unidentified minion hits another on the head with a hammer.
- A minion is fired from a cannon and crashes through a wooden stage floor.
- Minions punch and knock each other to the ground.
- One minion hits another minion back and forth with a table-tennis paddle.
- Bank manager Mr Perkins yells and threatens Gru. He also threatens Vector.
- Gru pulls a laser gun to jump the queue in a fast-food restaurant.
- Gru shoots and injures Vector with a laser gun.
- Vector shoots a laser gun at Gru.
- Gru and Vector fire bombs at each other.
- Gru is punched and fired on by lasers and bombs as he tries to infiltrate Vector’s fortress.
- Vector files missiles at Gru.
- Adoption agency administrator Miss Hattie hits Gru around the head with a book.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five. For example:
- Gru’s alien dog-like pet frequently snarls at people in a threatening way.
- This creature launches itself at Gru, wrapping its teeth around his arm. Gru hurls the dog across the room.
- A large shark in a glass tank lunges at Gru. Because the movie is in 3D, scenes like this are quite scary.
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- An unidentified minion falls from a flying spacecraft and presumably dies.
- Edith, Agnes, Margo and Gru have a ride on a roller coaster. Although not frightening in itself, there is an element of 3D virtual participation. We view the dizzying ride from the passengers’ perspective. This experience could disturb some young viewers.
- Agnes’s toy unicorn disintegrates after being hit by a laser beam.
- Edith, Agnes and Margo run to avoid being struck by the moon.
- The girls have to jump in mid-air from one spacecraft to another.
- Both Margo and Gru fall from a flying spacecraft. They hang by their fingers from a thin cable until being rescued by minions.
- Gru falls from a spacecraft and is left dangling precariously by his fingers over the side.
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children younger children in this age group, particularly those under 10. For example:
- Justin, a child on holiday in Egypt, accidentally falls to the ground from the apex of a pyramid.
- Edith wanders into and becomes trapped in a magician-style box that is permanently perforated with dozens of knives. After the door closes, red fluid seeps out from within the chamber. It looks like Edith has been killed. But we soon learn that Edith is uninjured. The red liquid came from her juice container, which was pierced by the blades.
- Miss Hattie yells at the girls and threatens to put them in the ‘box of shame. This is a small wooden crate with just one small slat for light and air.
Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.
None of concern
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie contains some use of substances. For example, a minion appears to become stoned after drinking ‘anti-gravity’ formula. He floats to the ceiling.
Nudity and sexual activity
There are no direct depictions of nudity or sexual activity in this movie. But there are some mildly crude, revealing or suggestive scenes. For example:
- Gru appears in his underpants.
- We see a child’s drawing of Gru on the toilet.
- A minion photocopies his bare bottom, and we see the image.
- Gru grabs his bottom while dancing in a suggestive way.
- Vector slaps his bottom while dancing in a suggestive way.
None of concern
This movie contains some mildly coarse and threatening language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Despicable Me is an entertaining children’s comedy. It also has enough layers to appeal to audiences of all ages. The animation is skilfully conceived and constructed. The characters are given depth by the cast. But some parents might be concerned about the amount of violence in the movie, and the failure to depict realistic consequences of violence.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include loyalty, determination and unselfishness.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as:
- the results of self-centred actions, in contrast to those showing consideration and care for others
- the meaning of ‘success’
- the real consequences of violence and alternative, non-violent options for resolving problems.