How To Build A Better Animated Family Movie – Part 6: There Is Consistent, Effective Comedy For Both Kids AND Adults

Despicable Me - The Big Beer

(c) Universal Studios


Not all animated family movies are primarily comedies – but they all include comedy. Comedy is an entertainment value: it’s a key part of making sure every animated family movie entertains its audience, even if it’s just comic relief from a more serious story. Often the most successful movies in this genre – the ICE AGE series and the MADAGASCAR series, for instance – are comedies first and foremost. So is DESPICABLE ME.

Clever, smart, sophisticated, and verbal at times, the comedy in DESPICABLE ME is also frequently visual/physical – there’s plenty of slapstick – and includes lowbrow, gross-out humor relished by kids of a certain age, without crossing the line into bad taste or rudeness. There are plenty of sight gags, a kind of humor that isn’t language-dependent, so it’s easily accessible to international audiences. But there’s some sly satire too. Here are examples of the different kinds of comedy the writers have successfully mined:

  • Vector can’t control his own inventions. A piranha gun, with a biting fish, attacks him. In other scene, he shrinks a toilet for fun, but then gets squirted by it.
  • Gru sets the ground-rules for the girls: no crying, no laughing, no giggling, and no annoying noises. The littlest, Agnes, keeps popping her cheeks and wants to know if this counts as annoying.
  • The Minions, let loose in a department store, play as kids would if they could, singing karaoke while watching themselves on dozens of TV screens.
  • Gru’s smiley face underwear is exposed while he’s trying to steal the shrink ray.
  • When Gru goes to adopt the girls, the Minions pad his resume with wholly unbelievable accomplishments.
  • A sign above the Bank of Evil identifies it as “formerly Lehman Bros.” Kids won’t get the joke, but it’s the sort of sly, winking, satirical humor adults enjoy. It also zips by fast, so kids are likely to miss it rather than be confused by it … but adults will catch it.

The writers and animators have taken care to milk every opportunity for laughs. They go the extra mile: they make the comedy abundant. And because the comedy is abundant, moments missed in one viewing can be caught in the next. It’s so rich in comedy, it practically requires repeat viewing to be fully appreciated. Since kids love the repetition of favorite gags, the comedy compels them to see it again and again.


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