×

Film Review: ‘Despicable Me 2’

This endearing sequel devises an expanded role for the Minions without letting them abscond with the show

With:
Voices: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Moises Arias.

An unexpected toon hit back in 2010, “Despicable Me” capitalized on the idea that the hole in a would-be villain’s heart might be perfectly filled by three adorable orphan girls. Bound to exceed its predecessor at the box office, Universal/Illumination’s endearing if slightly less inspired sequel finds the still-surly Gru just lonely enough to accommodate a love interest — the missing ingredient in this unconventional family portrait. After reluctantly admitting that he made a second-rate baddie at best, Steve Carell’s overcompensating character gets a chance to prove himself a first-class hero, providing ample opportunity for comic support from his Minions.

While not quite as charming or unique as the original, “Despicable Me 2” comes awfully close, extending co-directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin’s delightfully silly sensibility to a bit larger universe. The story picks up shortly after it left off, with Gru repurposing his arsenal of fearsome inventions to keep his three adopted daughters entertained. Meanwhile, his highly adaptable crew of gibberish-spouting Minions do double duty, alternating between glorified babysitters and elbow grease on Gru’s latest enterprise: developing a line of delicious jellies and jams.

The setup’s good for a few jokes — and writing duo Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio keep ’em coming at a steady pace — but it’s clear that much of this reformed villain’s talents are going untapped. That’s where secret agent Lucy Wilde comes in. Voiced by Kristen Wiig but behaving like an elastic version of that googly eyed pitch gal from the Progressive Insurance spots, Lucy represents an organization called the Anti-Villain League that seeks to recruit Gru.

Tall and gangly with a massive schnoz, Lucy is not just Gru’s equal in nearly every way, but obviously his romantic match as well — a position the script not-so-subtly suggests is vacant as early as Gru’s first scene. In fact, while the pic goes out of its way to concoct an elaborate plot involving a top-secret transmutation serum stolen from the Arctic Circle and stashed somewhere in a shopping mall, the unnecessarily complicated scenario clearly serves to bring this odd couple together.

This storyline also cleverly satisfies a second objective: devising an expanded role for the Minions without letting the little yellow scene-stealers completely abscond with the show. After all, the Minions have a feature of their own in the works (a fact the film rather obnoxiously reminds during an end-credits “audition” sequence that severely tests one’s tolerance for these overly slapsticky buggers), which no doubt explains the modest attempts to distinguish between their personalities here.

Whereas so much CG animation loses sight of — or in some cases, outright rejects — its connection to the classic hand-drawn cartoon tradition, the Illumination Mac Guff-made “Despicable Me” franchise fully embraces the loony design, zany humor and impossible physics pioneered by Hanna-Barbera, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones. The result may lack DreamWorks’ visual wow factor or the rich emotional connection Pixar consistently achieves, but it never forgets to have fun, putting amusement as its highest priority.

Renaud and Coffin fully commit to this oddly old-fashioned agenda, presenting a world where a top-heavy hunchback on spindly little legs can be twisted into pretzels when the situation demands. Their playful attitude extends to the voices, which account for much of the pic’s appeal. That certainly goes for the Minions (whom the helmers perform themselves, adding a hilarious form of nonsense-singing to their repertoire), and for such new additions as Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan and Benjamin Bratt.

Bratt reportedly came aboard as a last-minute substitution for Al Pacino, though you’d never guess he wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice for the role of El Macho, the swarthy lead suspect in Gru’s undercover investigation into the theft of the serum. Like Gru, El Macho is a former villain whom fatherhood has forced into a lower-profile existence — in his case, managing a Mexican restaurant at the mall.

Meanwhile with Gru distracted by his own budding romance, eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) falls for El Macho’s hipster son, Antonio (Moises Arias), severely compromising Gru’s objectivity in the case. Parents who’ve sat through enough recent studio toons will surely appreciate the way “Despicable Me 2” divides its allegiance evenly between the grown-up and kid characters, rather than pandering to the youngsters.

Taking advantage of the 3D format and Pharrell Williams’ funky theme, the creative team keeps things moving, although certain story threads remain unresolved amid the toon’s rush to entertain. Along the way, the pic ditches the mall location and abandons Gru and Lucy’s cupcake-making cover stories, (correctly) assuming that Minion cover versions of “I Swear” and “YMCA” will excuse the fact the endeavor lacks a proper ending.

Film Review: 'Despicable Me 2’

Reviewed at AMC Century City, Los Angeles, June 13, 2013. (Also in Annecy Animation Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (Animated) A Universal release and presentation of a Chris Meledandri production. Produced by Meledandri, Janet Healy.

Crew: Directed by Chris Renaud, Paul Coffin. Screenplay, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio. Camera (Deluxe color, 3D); editor, Gregory Perler; music, Heitor Pereira; original songs and themes, Pharrell Williams; production designers, Yarrow Cheney, Eric Guillon; sound designer (Datasat/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Christopher Scarabosio; supervising sound editor, Dennis Leonard; re-recording mixers, Gary Rizzo, Tom Johnson; animation directors, Pierre Leduc, Bruno Dequier; animation supervisor, Laurent de la Chapelle; effects supervisor, Milo Riccarand; character animation and computer graphics, Illumination Mac Guff; story supervisor, Dave Rosenbaum; stereo supervisor, John R. A. Benson; stereo compositing supervisor, Benoit Phillipon; associate producer, Robert Taylor; casting, Carla Hool.

With: Voices: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Moises Arias.

More Film

  • Stuber

    ‘Stuber’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Twentieth Century Fox claims the top spot in spending with “Stuber.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.91 million through Sunday for 1,325 national ad airings on 42 networks. [...]

  • BTS - J-Hope, V, Jungkook, Jimin,

    BTS' 'Bring the Soul: The Movie' Gets Global Theatrical Release

    BTS will be back on the big screen this summer. The Korean pop group announced today that their latest feature film, “Bring the Soul: The Movie,” will have a global release on August 7. It arrives just six and a half months after the septet’s last film release, “Love Yourself in Seoul.” “Bring the Soul” [...]

  • Box Office: 'Yesterday' Movie Takes on

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' and 'Yesterday' Take on 'Toy Story 4'

    The weekend box office has gone to the dolls. “Annabelle Comes Home,” a supernatural horror film about a possessed toy, is facing off against another band of plastic figurines: “Toy Story 4.” Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” is expected to dominate box office charts again over newcomers “Annabelle Comes Home” and “Yesterday,” a fantasy musical set [...]

  • 'The Current War' Trailer: Benedict Cumberbatch,

    Benedict Cumberbatch and Nicholas Hoult Feud in 'The Current War' Trailer (Watch)

    101 Studios has released an official new trailer for the Martin Scorcese-produced thriller, “The Current War,”  offering a glimpse into the dramatic 19th century battle over electricity that became known as the “war of the currents.” The film, which is a dramatization of real-life events, will follow the tumultuous journey of Thomas Edison, played by [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Oscars: 31 Upcoming Films That Could Enter the Awards Race

    The year reaches the halfway mark on June 30, and traditionally films from the first six months have an uphill battle in the Oscar race. However, this year’s January-June crop might get a boost from the accelerated schedule: Nominations voting is a tight Jan. 2-Jan. 7, 2020. So if voters start their homework now, early [...]

  • Yesterday Movie Danny Boyle

    Danny Boyle on 'Yesterday,' Leaving 'Bond 25' and Why the Beatles Still Rock

    Danny Boyle would like to reintroduce you to the Beatles. The iconic foursome certainly needs no introduction, but in his movie “Yesterday,” which debuts June 28, the director envisions a word where nobody has heard of John, Paul, George and Ringo. That is, nobody besides Jack Malik. When the struggling songwriter, portrayed by newcomer Himesh [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content