(by Dustin Putman
2010's "Despicable Me" unsuspectingly snuck up from behind to become one of that summer's biggest hits—so big, in fact, as to earn $251-million in the U.S. and place at #10 on the list of highest-grossing animated features. The movie itself was no ground-breaker, but in its story of a master villain out to steal the moon whose cold heart is slowly melted by the three orphaned sisters he takes in, the picture was devilishly funny and offered equal shares of soul and catchphrases ("It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!"). It also didn't hurt that the movie had highly-sellable supporting characters in the form of rambunctious yellow creatures called Minions, used sparingly enough that children fell in love with them even as they were left wanting to see more of them. Three years later, "Despicable Me 2" has arrived with the same directorial team, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, and screenwriters, Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (2012's "The Lorax"), who know their way around the family film market. The animation is as peppy and candy-coated as one could possibly wish, and there's a slam-dunk new character in the form of Kristen Wiig's (2011's "Bridesmaids") spunky agent Lucy. She's likable enough to almost make the viewer want to forgive "Despicable Me 2" for all of its deficiencies—of which there are many. When taken as a whole, this is a pedestrian sequel with half the heart and twice the overblown slapstick. Article continues below
One of the pleasures of the original "Despicable Me" was in laying witness to Gru's (voiced by Steve Carell) cheerfully devious ways, delighting in his own villainy even as he somehow retained a certain charm for the audience. By the end of the film, Gru was a changed man, trading in his evilness for the chance to raise precocious adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). With Gru's character arc having arrived at a place very much different from where he began, directors Coffin and Renaud effectively tied up all the loose ends of their antagonist-turned-protagonist. Because Gru starts off "Despicable Me 2" as a totally good guy, his maniacal underground lair since transformed into a jams-and-jellies factory, the initial fun of the predecessor—watching him do mischievously bad things before slinking sneakily away—is gone. Thus, when the plot gets underway, pairing Gru with Anti-Villain League recruit Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to go undercover at the local mall in order to sniff out the mastermind behind a destructive electromagnet that has already wiped out an entire Antarctic research facility, it comes off as alternately forced and overstuffed.
"Despicable Me 2" isn't without appeal—for one, it looks great, and for two, Gru, Lucy, and the three girls (though not used enough here) are charismatic leads worth caring about—but there is still a noxious air permeating the proceedings that suggests this is a cash-in rather than an organic continuation. The core premise meanders and lacks the stakes and momentum that a sequel should. The Minions garner at least twice, if not three times, as much screen time, and a little of their babbling, frenetic histrionics go a long way. An attempt to repeat their end-credits shenanigans from the first film as they put the screen's three-dimensionality to the test is unimaginative and lazy this time out. Also disheartening is the villain of the piece, a Mexican restaurant owner/wrestler named Eduardo/El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), whose depiction sniffs of out-of-place stereotyping and racism, and a high-flying climax that feels like a virtual redux of the third act in "Despicable Me."
Steve Carell (2013's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone") delivers an inspired return engagement as the Russian-accented Gru, he and Kristen Wiig propelling the occasionally slack material with sheer talent and force of will. They make a vibrant pair as partners posing as cupcake shop owners, less so as eventual romantic love interests. As little Agnes, Elsie Fisher (2011's "Dirty Girl") is so adorable her name deserves to be written in bubble letters or whimsical cursive. Worth noting, as well, is Kristen Schaal (2012's "Sleepwalk with Me"), her pronounced and quirky voice tailor-made for animation, here running with the part of Shannon, a dippy gal Gru gets set up with on a date.
"Despicable Me 2" culminates at the palatial, cliffs-surrounded Hispanic lair of baddie Eduardo, with Lucy tied up like the damsel in distress she totally isn't. All things considered, it's a forgettable, low-scale finale matching the scope of the rest of the anemic narrative, a telling comment on the push and pull to devise a place for these characters to go when, really, the first movie should have been a one-and-done affair. Eager to please, then overplease (those Minions really are more effective in smaller doses), "Despicable Me 2" is pleasant as it plays out, but also glaringly lacking when stacked up next to its shrewder, sweeter, more inventive predecessor. Undiscriminating kids will like it, but lucky for them an even better animated film will be playing in the theater next door: Pixar's far superior, more consistently entertaining and touching "Monsters University." This one can wait for the magic of two dimensions - and on Blu-ray.