I was immediately taken in by the first teaser I saw for Despicable Me, way back in 2009.
I'm sure many of you saw it, or if you didn't, I could link to it. But because I'm a man of words, let me describe it.
It takes place in Egypt, and features a rotund family of American tourists, each more disagreeable than the next, visiting the Pyramids. The precocious little boy climbs up on rickety scaffolding next to one pyramid, eluding the notice of the guards. As he nears the top, the guards finally do notice him, but it's too late -- he's losing his balance, falling a hundred feet toward the unforgiving edges of the pyramid below. It's certain death. But right as he hits the surface of the pyramid, it gives -- and it turns out this is an optical illusion, some kind of billowy tent with a pyramid painted on it, taking the place of the actual structure, which has been stolen right out from under everyone's noses. The boy sinks into it like someone would sink into a trampoline, then is ejected hundreds of feet into the air, landing on his family. In real life, this would also have killed him, and probably them. But not in a cartoon.
At the end of the teaser, there's a sinister laugh and the silhouette of a man with a very large nose. He's the despicable man of the title. And we immediately imagine him as some kind of evil (but probably loveable) genius with an evil fortress and unlimited amounts of money, who goes around stealing landmarks and generally making mayhem, just for mayhem's sake. Maybe he'd be across between the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge.
At least, that's what I thought the movie would be about. Now, I'm pretty sure it's just about a bunch of oblong yellow dudes in overalls.
Yes indeed, the ad campaign for Despicable Me has officially been hijacked by a bunch of preciously cute android worker bees, or whatever these things are. That's all you see of Despicable Me, anywhere you go. Having once rested its laurels on the naughty charm of some kind of dastardly supervillain, Universal has since gone a thousand percent kiddie in one of the most stunning market corrections you will ever see in film advertising.
These stupid little yellow guys -- whose character design I hate, by the way -- are everywhere. On bus stops. On the sides of buses. In poster kiosks in malls. On billboards. On TV. They even star in their own intro bit for Real 3D that has been playing before movies like Toy Story 3 and The Last Airbender. They are simply inescapable.
Oh, and never mind the series of strategically timed posters designed to steadily whet our appetite throughout the spring, which have instead done the exact opposite. In addition to the Mother's Day-themed poster seen above, there was one for Father's Day and one for Easter.
But how much more excited for the movie were you when the poster below was symbolic of how they wanted to advertise it?
For the record, I hear Despicable Me is quite good. Which just makes it all the more unfortunate that the advertising campaign has turned off people like me -- people who were fine with seeing it for free on Wednesday (had my free screening transpired correctly), but are pretty wary about spending money on it, if only because I am so damn sick of those walking grapefruits with googly eyes.
Granted, Despicable Me doesn't make its money on me. It makes its money on the little kids who love those walking grapefruits.
If I wanted to give Universal a break, here's what I'd say: In choosing a movie title that contains a word children don't understand, they had to re-double their efforts to connect with them in another way. Hence the current blitz of grapefruit minions. The more kids see the grapefruit minions, the harder they'll try to pronounce the word "despicable" -- at least well enough for their parents to buy tickets to the correct movie.
Ultimately, wishing that Universal could go with a despicable approach rather than a cute approach is akin to the many other complaints we film buffs have about the film industry, in which we wish it could only be such-and-such a way, and if so, everything would be awesome. But the need to make tons and tons of money almost always prevents it from being such-and-such a way.
In other words, accepting the grapefruit minions brings us one step closer to accepting reality.