Back in 2010, it was a battle of the baddies at the box office as Despicable Me’s chrome-domed Gru took on big-headed Megamind to determine which of the diabolical supervillains had the biggest heart. Three short years later, with no Megamind sequel in sight, proud papa Gru seems to have won the battle by default in Despicable Me 2, a vivacious sequel that’s effortlessly entertaining despite its notably diminished stakes.
Once upon a time, Gru (voice of Steve Carell) dreamt of stealing the moon -- these days he’s a single adoptive father of three precocious girls. Having given up his spectacular life of crime, Gru now aims to produce a delicious new line of jams with the help of his tiny minions and his old pal Dr. Nefario (voice of Russell Brand). Feeling unfulfilled in his newfound role as a jam-maker, Dr. Nefario announces that he will be departing for more evil pastures just as Gru is approached by the Anti-Villain League to capture the mysterious culprit who just stole a top-secret research lab filled with PX 41 -- an experimental serum with the strength to transform harmless animals into ravenous monsters. The AVL is certain that the culprit is covering his tracks by posing as a small-business owner at a local mall, and assign their best agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig) to aid Gru in identifying him. Meanwhile, Gru’s oldest adopted daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) falls for rebellious teen Antonio (Moises Arias), the leather-jacketed son of boisterous Mexican cantina owner Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt). Now, with Gru’s paternal instincts kicking into full gear just as a dastardly plot begins to unfold, the devoted new father must divide his time between saving the world from an enigmatic supervillain, and saving Margo from total heartbreak. All the while, a suitable mother for the girls may have been standing right under Gru’s pointy nose the entire time.
In Despicable Me, we watched in delight as a scoundrel with global ambitions had his heart melted by three adorable little orphans. Only a few years have passed since Gru kissed his criminal instincts goodbye, and in the opening scenes of this sequel, screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul make a point to show us what an adoring father he’s become. The result is a string of lighthearted, well-timed gags as Gru throws a princess birthday party for young Agnes, and gets swept off to AVN headquarters by quirky agent Lucy. Colorful and energetic, these early scenes strike the same affectionately comic tone that made the first film a box-office hit. Those good vibes continue as Gru reluctantly begins dating in a bid to find the girls a suitable mother, and starts snooping around the mall with Lucy in hopes of finding the secret serum stash. It’s around this point that we begin to realize that the writers have opted to reign in the scope to focus on character interaction, and who could blame them for not wanting to try and top a plot about stealing the moon? Yes, Despicable Me 2 may be much smaller in scale than its predecessor, but it’s no less fun as we watch Gru unwittingly fall in love while piecing together the various clues in the PX 41 mystery. Although it could be argued that Daurio and Paul misstep in not revealing the villain’s identity a bit sooner, an abundance of sight gags involving the minions confirm that tension was never a priority here, making memorable use of the boisterous yellow blobs as the story unfolds at a leisurely pace.
Of course, for those who savored Carell’s gleefully over-the-top voice work in the previous outing, the focus on characters will only serve to double your enjoyment this time around, even if it often feels like precious little is at stake. Once the focus of the story shifts to Gru and Lucy’s efforts to stop a disaster from unfolding, the writers do a fairly ingenious job of turning one of the series’ most popular attractions into a threat that’s as funny as it is frightening, but it’s the winning vocal performances and the upbeat tone that make this slightly-lesser sequel highly watchable regardless. For cynics and detractors, it may at time feel like this sequel exists for nothing more than to push the film’s most marketable characters front and center. By the time the credits roll even fans will likely recognize that the potential for this series has been exhausted, but ask them if it was a fun ride along the way and odds are they’ll simply wring their hands and grin. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan