How To Build A Better Animated Family Movie – Part 8: It Has Genuine Heart That’s Not Overly Earnest

Despicable Me - Gru Tells Bedtime Story

(c) Universal Studios

8. IT HAS GENUINE HEART THAT’S NOT OVERLY EARNEST

The orphaned girls need a home and family, but their predicament is never presented in a maudlin way. The oldest of the girls looks out for the younger two, and has a somewhat cynical, streetwise manner that serves them well while keeping the tone from veering into the sentimental.

Even though Gru insists on “no kisses, no hugs,” and he gives the girls empty bomb casings to sleep in, he soon finds himself reading a bedtime story to the girls. When he finds it too earnest, he proclaims it “garbage!” Yet he’s clearly moved by it, and toward the movie’s end, creates his own bedtime story to read to them. The girls are represented in the story by kittens, with a unicorn standing in for Gru. Getting a little choked up, Gru reads to the girls that kittens adopted by the unicorn turned the unicorn’s life upside down: “They made him laugh. They made him cry. He never should have said goodbye. Now he knows he could never part/from those little kittens that changed his heart.” This is an effective way of telegraphing that Gru has changed for the better, and the girls have gained a parent, without things getting too sappy.

There are touching moments, e.g., when Gru needs money, the girls break their piggy bank to share with him their meager savings. Yet there’s never a sense that anything’s cloying or overly earnest. There is genuine heart and real feeling, but in small doses, underpinning the story. Comedy remains front and center.

And finally, DO OTHER SUCCESSFUL ANIMATED FAMILY COMEDIES USE THESE ELEMENTS?, with a helpful CHECKLIST

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