Criminal Mastermind to Dedicated Family Man: The Somewhat-Reluctant Conversion of “Gru”

What, you may ask, could possibly entice a four-year-old to master the inflections necessary to give voice to a fairly-convincing Eastern European accent? Why does that same four-year-old roar with laughter every time one of his siblings (or, let’s be honest, his father) sneaks up on him and yells “Aaaaaaah! Curse you, tiny toilet!”? What sort of bizarre super-villain spends his time, energy and resources developing weapons no one really has any use for, such as a Squid Launcher? And what does any of this have to do with the gospel message of redemption graciously offered to us by God through Jesus Christ?

Somehow, the debut feature film from Illumination Entertainment, Despicable Me, escaped my attention entirely when it was released to movie theaters this past summer. I can honestly say that I knew nothing whatsoever about the film right up until the point when the DVD magically showed up on our living room floor Christmas morning. Being an ever-vigilant Christian father (perhaps overly so), I confess that I was at first glance somewhat suspicious about its contents: “Do I really want my four-year-old to watch a movie entitled ‘Despicable Me’?” The answer, I am pleased to report, is a resounding “Yes.” Apparently, Christianity Today agrees, as it named Despicable Me one of the Top 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2010.

Over the Christmas holiday, and into January, the characters of Gru, Vector, Margo, Edith and Agnes all managed to work their way into our hearts and (most obviously) our speech patterns. While the four-year-old certainly led the effort to incorporate piranha launchers, “dart guns” and shrink rays into his imaginative play, the rest of us happily followed along with heavily-accented catchphrases, “Light bulb!” leading the way. Anyone with kids already knows that, for whatever reason, a certain book or movie will grab onto our kids at a really deep level and refuse to let go, at least for some extended period of time. What was it about Gru and his cohorts that seemed to capture all of our imaginations?

If you’ve attended Sunday morning services at The Crossing more than 10 times, you’ve likely seen one of our pastors work himself up into a froth as he frantically waves his arms while pointing out that the redemptive gospel message of Jesus Christ can be found in just about every piece of popular entertainment, at least in some form. “We just can’t help it,” this particular pastor is known to say, “Our hearts are constantly seeking a redemptive path for our own lives, and so this overarching meta-narrative shows up in absolutely everything, even works by non-Christians and atheists.” I can recall feeling a bit skeptical the first time I heard this argument – I can think of plenty of films that have zero in the way of redemptive value – but the passing of time, along with some more focused observation along the way, have borne it out. The songs, books and movies that grip our hearts most enduringly all tend to zero in on the theme of redemption of some sort.

Even silly, slapstick, animated movies like Despicable Me stick with us a bit longer than they might otherwise because we are all naturally drawn to the theme of redemption. God has built into our hearts – at a deep level, I would argue – a fine-tuned sense of our own brokenness, such that we all desire to be better than we know we are. Every member of my family delights to watch Despicable Me not only for the goofy gags but also because an evil, isolated scientist is (begrudgingly) turned into a warm, loving family man. His values, morals and priorities are turned upside down as his heart is dragged reluctantly into a loving relationship with three little girls. If God were an obvious player in this storyline, one could say that the Creator of the Universe used a broken, sinful man to work powerfully in the lives of the three orphaned girls he adopted…and vice versa. The meta-narrative here is that, at a high enough level, this story is similar to the stories in the Bible that occur over and over again – God using broken, sinful people to do mighty things for His people and His kingdom.

So, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, and you want a light, fun way to spend 95 minutes with (or without!) your kids, rent or (better yet) buy the DVD. If, however, you want to meditate a little more deeply on how God uses flawed, broken people – like you, like me…maybe even like our fictitious friend Gru – you might start with these verses below. My wife and I like to hand out these verses during the course of facilitating a semester of DivorceCare at The Crossing as a way of reminding everyone that God has absolutely nothing else with which to build His Kingdom here on Earth but seriously messed-up individuals. Speaking as someone who was also somewhat-reluctantly converted into a family man, I can affirm that the storyline of Despicable Me is not as far-fetched as you might like to believe!

God uses flawed people all the time. A review of some of the greatest heroes in the Bible, people that were used mightily by God, should comfort and encourage all of us as we look at our own histories of sin and wonder if God will ever be able to redeem our past. It seems clear from looking at this list that God doesn’t expect perfection; He expects obedience. The question is…will we turn and begin living our lives for Him?

From “The Family Corner” at Christianity Today:
Despicable Me is appropriately rated PG for rude humor and mild action, though it is still generally family friendly. The humor admittedly gets a little dark at times. “Unruly” children at the orphanage are placed in a cardboard “Box of Shame.” And one scene implies that a girl has died in a horrible accident, but the “blood” turns out to be juice from her juicebox. There are some gags involving poop and fart humor, but it’s all relatively tame in comparison to other films. The action isn’t anything scarier than what’s found in other films from Pixar and Shrek.
Copyright 2010 Christianity Today International

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