According to Louis Giannetti in Understanding Movies, “every film has a slant, a given ideological perspective that privileges certain characters, institutions, behaviors, and motives as attractive, and downgrades an opposing set as repellent.” Based on this expectation, we can apply ideological leanings even to animated children’s films, where the messages are often more implicit than explicit. When analyzing the film Despicable Me based on ideology, one can conclude that the perspective is leftist. This film exemplifies the leftist perspective by appealing to the messages of positive change and transformation. Unfortunately, it does communicate some negative messages by having a villain as the main character.
Despicable Me is has a leftist slant. This conclusion is based on two factors that Giannetti attributes to the leftist view. The first is that “leftists believe…human behavior is learned and can be changed by proper environmental incentives.” This is exemplified in Despicable Me from the main character Gru. Gru is an evil supervillain who plans on stealing the moon in order to achieve “the crime of the century.” To accomplish this crime, he adopts three orphan girls to help. Against his will, the girls reshape Gru’s evil ways into becoming a caring, loving, and kind parent. He is changed by the proper environmental incentives, his children. The second leftist view is that “leftists identify with the poor, the disenfranchised. They often romanticize rebels and outsiders.” Gru embodies this idea of being an outsider. By being a supervillain, Gru has no friends except the minions that work for him.The film identifies with him by making him a relatable character who the audience can empathize with. The film also identifies with the three orphan girls. They are poor, disenfranchised, and outsiders just by being children without parents. Together, Gru and the orphans make an unconventional, yet happy, family.
By having this leftist slant, the film conveys the message of positive change and transformation. This message is communicated through the shift that Gru undergoes after meeting the three orphan girls. To get this message across, the film heavily relies on the persuasive appeal pathos. For example, the climax of Gru’s transformation happens after the girls have been kidnapped by his enemy, Vector. Gru risks everything to save them including the accomplishment of the crime of the century. Dramatic music drums in the audience’s ear delivering the sense of anxiety and fear for the girls’ lives. Gru refuses to stop trying as he chases Vector’s plane to retrieve the girls. Finally, the peak of suspense is built for the audience as the girls must jump from Vector’s plane to safety. Gru is willing to risk his own life by hanging from the side of his plane to save the girls which shows his transformation into a good guy. The girls make it safely onto Gru’s plane and the family is reunited. The film pulls at the audience’s heart strings as they embrace and Gru completes his conversion into a loving father. The emotions of anxiety, suspense, and compassion all work together to communicate the message of positive change.
Although this message of transformation is a positive one, there are some problematic messages that accompany it. The main problem is with the way they presented this message. Despicable Me chose to have a supervillain as the main character. By making Gru a relatable character throughout the entire movie, the film is almost condoning his villainous behavior. Children should not be relating with evil criminals who plan on stealing the moon to put the whole world in danger. Although Gru does make a change, this change does not come until the end of the movie. In fact, Gru even accomplishes stealing the moon. He never even expresses regret for this crime and only gives it up to save the girls. This is problematic as children often look up to their favorite movie characters. They should not be looking up to a supervillain.
Gru’s journey from supervillain to loving dad proves the beneficial message that positive change is possible. Even for a supervillain. Although he might not be the best role model for children, the theme of transformation outweighs this problem by providing children with an example of one of life’s most important messages. People can change and become better versions of themselves, they just need a little incentive. This movie was entertaining, playful, and insightful, and I would recommend it to anyone. Therefore, I give Despicable Me five out of five nachos.