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Despicable Me (B+)

Review in a Hurry: A self-proclaimed supervillain plots to steal the moon but then encounters an even greater challenge: caring for three adorable orphan girls. You gotta watch out for those cookie-selling kiddies—they'll nab your money and your heart, as does this gleefully silly animated adventure.

The Bigger Picture: It's a well-worn tale: Irresistible moppets turn a crusty crank's heart to mush and awaken the nurturing dad within. But delightful Despicable freshens this stale family formula with endearing characters, vivid visuals and Looney Tunes-style lunacy.

In a setup reminiscent of Spy vs. Spy, grinchy Gru (Steve Carell)—a Slavic-accented meanie wielding a wicked freeze gun—is determined to out-do rival villain Vector. So he hatches the greatest heist plan ever: swiping the moon from the sky!

But before rocketing into space, this bald-pated baddie needs a ray gun Vector has to shrink the moon to a transportable size. He adopts a cute sibling trio from Miss Hattie's Home for Girls to help him infiltrate Vector's fortress and grab the gadget. Dastardly plans go awry, however, when Gru grows fond of his unwitting accomplices during the requisite tea parties, bedtime stories and dance-recital rehearsals.

Despicable is predictable in its emotional arc and never reaches the Up-ward heights of a Pixar pic. But this Universal release still spins an inventive story with over-the-top action and goofy-fun 3-D sequences—notably a stomach-tumbling rollercoaster ride, a climactic showdown in space and end-credits schtick spoofing all the visual gimmickry.

The characters are given dimension as well—thanks in large part to heartfelt voice work by the terrific cast. Plus, we get peeks at Gru's serious mommy issues through flashbacks with Julie Andrews, playing against type, as his disapproving ma.

The pic packs in the sight gags and verbal humor, with the biggest chuckles provided by Gru's army of manic, gibbering Minions, who look like googly-eyed Twinkies with teeth. Sign up these scene-stealers for a spinoff!

The 180—a Second Opinion: Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" is one of the most overused go-to songs for an easy laugh, and Despicable, too, heads to that hottest spot north of Havana.