Despicable Me 2
“Oh, no!” I hear you cry, “Another animated sequel!” Yes, those have typically not lived up to the promise of their predecessors — Monsters University being the most recent example — but this is Despicable Me we’re talking about. This is the picture that came out of nowhere and put Illumination Entertainment on the map back in 2010. The studio may have disappointed once or twice since then, but Despicable Me 2 is every bit as good as the original; maybe even better.
Here’s what you need to know from the first installment: Gru (Steve Carell) used to be a mad scientist supervillain. Then he adopted three girls — Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) — and stopped being a supervillain. Congratulations: you’re caught up.
Of course, not everyone is happy with Gru’s career shift from weapons and gadgets to jams and jellies — his assistant, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) seeks greener laboratory pastures — but for the most part his problems are typical of a single father: providing a good home for his girls, fretting about Margo getting older and discovering boys, fending off his neighbor’s attempts to set him up, and maintaining order among his thousands of minions.
Until, that is, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League. Someone has stolen an entire arctic research facility, including a chemical that turns rabbits into giant, slavering, purple, man-eating beasts instead of little, cuddly, white ones. They’ve tracked it to the Paradise Mall, where they set Gru up with rookie partner Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to ferret out the supervillain responsible. Oh, and while his back is turned someone is snatching up his minions, and probably not for a free beach party.
Despicable Me 2 maintains the smart, surreal humor of the first one, down to regular silliness from the minions. It’s no wonder they’re getting their own spinoff next year, besides the fortune that directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud will save on voice actors by doing most of the characters themselves. At the same time, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio find a fresh direction to take these characters rather than just retreading the same ground that worked last time.
A lot of the credit has to go to Mac Guff, the French animation studio Illumination purchased a couple years back. They show a remarkable talent for realistic, yet expressive faces, and a lot of subtle emotional content comes across with little time spent on dialogue, even from the background. This, in turn, allows Coffin and Renaud to use a much lighter touch.
Everything you loved about Despicable Me — and you know you loved it — is here, and it all clicks smoothly into place. The reigning champion of this year’s animated films has been found, at least until the sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs gets its shot in September.
Worth It: absolutely.
Bechdel Test: fail.