Scott Neumyer is the author of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town. He's a publicist for Click Communications as well as a writer and photographer. You can reach him on Twitter and at www.scottwrites.com. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. You can read his Raising a Cinephile column every other Thursday.
The year 2010 was not only a banner year for cinema as a whole, but it was also an especially lucrative one (both financially and critically) for animated films. Animated blockbusters like Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon made oodles and oodles of money while charming plenty of audiences young and old. The year saw some great (and some not-so-great) animated releases like the aforementioned Toy Story 3 as well as Tangled, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, Megamind, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Alpha and Omega, and The Illusionist. And while most audiences will probably keep Toy Story 3 and Tangled most closely to their minds for the years to come, I wanted to take a few minutes to write about the two animated films from 2010 that I’ll most fondly remember: How To Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me.
Not only was How To Train Your Dragon my favorite animated film of 2010, but it was also my favorite film of the year overall. That’s high praise considering how much I absolutely adored Black Swan, True Grit, and The Fighter. But there was just something about Hiccup and Toothless that stuck with me even longer than those previously mentioned non-animated films. Maybe it was the stunning visuals, or the beautifully written tale, or the top-notch voice acting, or just the bond between a boy and his dragon. Whatever it was, it struck a chord with me deep within my little movie-loving soul and never quite let the hooks out. It’s a film I’ve watched numerous times both with just my wife and (more) with The Wiggle Bear, and it just gets better every single time.
The little one doesn’t share quite as much affection for How To Train Your Dragon as her daddy, but she does like it a lot. It may be a bit too dark in places and maybe a little more mature than her nearly-three-year-old mind. Whatever it is, it’s clear that she enjoys watching it, but you won’t find her quoting it throughout the day like she does the next film I’m going to discuss. That said, I can’t get enough of it. Need proof? How about the fact that I own (and treasure) the book The Art of How To Train Your Dragon, I listen to the film’s score on repeat, and I’m planning on naming our next child Toothless. Okay, okay. I’m kidding about the Toothless thing, but you get the idea. It’s just an absolutely beautiful film (the flight scenes alone are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on film) with a great story, a fantastic message, and a fun cast. What more could you want?
Despicable Me, on the other hand, is pretty much the polar opposite of How To Train Your Dragon. It’s a contemporary story with a cranky anti-hero in the form of Gru (a guy that would typically be a villain in most animated movies) and his attempts to steal the moon. Those plans, however, get a bit side railed when he meets Margo, Edith, and Agnes and ends up taking them home from Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls. The film made a gazillion dollars at the box office, so I probably don’t need to bore you with the details. It’s bright and shiny (as opposed to How To Train Your Dragon’s dark palette), full of laughs, and insanely quotable. Remember how I mentioned that The Wiggle Bear didn’t go around quoting How To Train Your Dragon? Well, throw that right out the window with Despicable Me. She’s a quote machine. She’s basically memorized the entire film by now and can drop a line on cue. It’s pretty awesome. And while Despicable Me falls just below my favorite animated film of 2010, it’s clearly The Wiggle Bear’s favorite. There were a few months when you couldn’t go a few hours without hearing “Watch minions movie, please?” in this house.
Despite its blatantly comedy exterior, Despicable Me has a lot more going for it than just being a hilariously funny film. It takes a lot of chances by putting a guy who’s essentially a villain in the lead role, and it takes even more chances by showing how he grows a heart (and not just magically giving him one as would happen in most animated flicks). A lot of the credit here has to go to Steve Carell’s zany, heartfelt performance. He masters the character of Gru from the first moment he hits the screen and turns this ugly, crabby guy into someone incredibly likable.
The supporting cast (Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, and Danny McBride) is solid, the animation is fantastic, and Pharrell’s soundtrack is just the right mix of classic hits and funky beats. I never thought I’d hear my two-and-a-half year old singing “You Should Be Dancing,” but Despicable Me made that a reality after just a few viewings. Not to mention the number of times I’ve had to read “Sleepy Kittens” (yes, that’s right… the book in the film actually exists in real life and it’s great) for her to go to sleep. She makes me do Gru’s voice and use the finger puppets or we have to read it again. And again. And again. Did I mention I love being a daddy?
Listen, I love Toy Story 3 and Tangled just as much as everyone else does (actually I probably love Tangled more than most people as I think it’s one of the best Disney films in the past few years), but I just happened to love two less-talked-about films a little bit more. If you haven’t had a chance to watch How To Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me with your little ones (and judging by box office numbers and Blu-ray/DVD sales, you probably have), I suggest you get copies now and do it. They’re both little slices of awesome from a great year for animated cinema.