With high hopes of rivalling the 'big three' animation studios (Pixar, Blue Sky and DreamWorks), 'Despicable Me' is the first offering from Universal's new Illumination Entertainment subsidiary. It's a promising start for the newbies: with all-ages laughs and a gripping plot, 'Despicable Me' is a worthwhile family outing.

Gru (Carell), a strangely Russian-accented super-villain, is livid when his grand scheme to steal a pyramid is disrupted by his arch rival Vector (Segel). In an attempt to remain the world's 'best villain', the devious Gru devises a new plan to shrink and steal the moon. However, when Vector swipes the shrink ray needed to complete the evil mission, Gru breaks into Vector's heavily-guarded headquarters.

When he spots three young orphan girls, Margo (Cosgrove), Agnes (Fisher) and Edith (Gaier), obtaining easy access to Vector's den by selling Girl Scout Cookies, Gru adopts them without delay. He then continues to scheme away, encouraging the innocent trio to plant a series of robot cookies, allowing him to steal back the shrink ray successfully. Yet, despite the best babysitting abilities of his army of yellow minions, Gru quickly discovers that his newfound parental duties may jeopardise his infamous reputation.

Among the great treasures of this enchanting film is that we get an insight that is both funny and fulfilling into what it is that makes not one but two super-villains so obsessed with being despicable. The resilience of the three girls is an uplifting counterpoint to the misery and lack of confidence displayed by Gru, showing us that even the most unfortunate of situations does not have to make you overly vulnerable or heartless. Elsie Fisher's performance as Agnes, the youngest of the girls, is exceptionally captivating, and the scene where she reacts to Gru winning her a stuffed unicorn at a fair is unquestionably the highlight of the movie.

Carell is outstanding as Gru, while support from Julie Andrews (as Gru's discontented mum), and Jason Segel add to the overall comedy. However, it is the adorable yellow minions that steal the show by providing many giggles, especially in the karaoke scene where they change Barry Manilow's 'Copacabana' to 'Copaca-banana'. Russell Brand is also terrific as the mad English scientist Dr Nefario.

The sharp and flexible 3-D animation is mesmerising, especially in the rollercoaster scene which is only short of giving you a bout of vertigo. The characters are all marvellously presented and the settings are simple but effective, with the contrast between the dark world of Gru and the softer presence of the girls making for a delicious visual feast.

With this movie you will find an excellent balance of what appeals to children and adults alike. It encompasses an intelligent and original story, filled with unforgettable characters. There is not one tedious moment and luckily the story itself doesn't lose any momentum. Make sure you stay until the end credits to watch the lovable minions having a nifty little 3-D boogie session.

In spite of its trip to the moon, 'Despicable Me' doesn't reach the heights of 'Up' or 'Toy Story 3', but it's guaranteed to leave your little darlings feeling starry-eyed.

Laura Delaney