Editor’s Notes: Despicable Me 2 opens wide today, July 3rd. Check your local listings for showtimes. For an additional perspective on the film, please read Mel’s review.
When it comes to animated features, there are two big names; DreamWorks and Pixar. The giants of animation draw most of the attention financially and critically, but they aren’t the only ones churning out entertaining family fare. Illumination Entertainment first popped up with 2010’s Despicable Me and won over audiences with its unique style and well, the Minions. After finding less success with the critically derided live-action/animated hybrid Hop and doing a bit better with an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the studio returns to their first property in hopes of rekindling that flame, and Despicable Me 2 manages to do just that.
There is a distinct joy with which Despicable Me 2 is presented that it is hard to actually dislike the film.
Gru (Steve Carell) is no longer the villain he once was. Now the happy father of Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), he is dealing with the things that befall a middle-aged single father in the suburbs. While outside following Agnes’s birthday party, he and two of his Minions are kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and transported to an undisclosed location. It turns out that Ms. Wilde is an agent of the Anti-Villain League and they need Gru’s villainous expertise to root out a mysterious new villain and thwart his nefarious plot.
There is a distinct joy with which Despicable Me 2 is presented that it is hard to actually dislike the film. Where Pixar delves closer to the real and DreamWorks anthropomorphizes animals, Illumination utilizes a much more cartoonish style, employing its fair share of squash and stretch; it is like the Looney Tunes of computer animated features. All of the characters just seem so happy to be in this world, and even the minor sadness of the first (because come on, three orphans selling cookies that just can’t get adopted; that’s sad), is basically gone this time around. Instead the underlying story isn’t one of family but love. It becomes evident very early on that there is going to be a push to get Gru a girlfriend and while not as forceful as The Santa Clause 2’s contractual obligation, it’s not too far from it. The love story is absolutely derivative but unobtrusively so as to not become a burden on itself. The film is still very much about the fun to be had, but perhaps due to the weight of other animated successes, they try to shoehorn some kind of growth for its main character that fails to really take hold.
The similarity to its predecessor is slightly glaring. Hitting nearly all of the same beats as the first, the film even begins with a mysterious villainous act; but while the first revealed its perpetrator rather quickly, this time around they choose to string you along a bit more (or as much stringing along as a film like this is capable of). Most adults in the audience are going to spot the antagonist exceedingly quickly and give dismissive attention to the couple of red herrings that are trotted out, but the filmmakers don’t really seem to be aiming for groundbreaking or even unique. The film’s structure is blatantly obvious acting merely as a skeleton on which to set up a series of gags, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does make the film feel like something that will drift into the ethers over time. I imagine the first film was stripped to its bones and then studio notes from the first were dictated while a new story was generated. Make Gru nicer. Give Gru a love interest. More of the girls. More Minions. They can check each box and directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud can pat themselves on the back for turning in an entertaining and family friendly film, but it stops at cute and doesn’t approach memorably great.
The similarity to its predecessor is slightly glaring. Hitting nearly all of the same beats as the first, the film even begins with a mysterious villainous act; but while the first revealed its perpetrator rather quickly, this time around they choose to string you along a bit more…
Oh and the Minions. Yes, there are more of them, so if you liked them in the first (and you really should have liked them in the first) you should be happy this time around. They are careful not to force them on you too much and keep the unintelligible sidekicks from devolving into annoyance. At times the film will veer into set-up for a future Minions film (which is coming, in case the credits tag hadn’t fully convinced you), but their importance to the story is integrated nicely. One aspect of the film that I love and believe doesn’t get enough praise is the original music by Pharrell Williams and Heitor Pereira. The songs perfectly match the upbeat tone of the film and often trick you into believing that they are current radio hits. The duo also worked on the first film and gives the Despicable Me franchise a distinct flavor, like Illumination’s version of some hipper and less sentimental Randy Newman. The music as a whole ups the ante and the final two musical numbers, which highly feature the Minions, are so humorously delightful that they hit right in the sweet spot of entertainment for all ages.
The degree to which you enjoyed Despicable Me directly translates to how you will feel about its sequel. Despicable Me 2 isn’t really any better than the film it follows, but it definitely isn’t worse. The story is unremarkable, feeling very familiar and absolutely predictable, but it is strong enough to support the light romp that is the film. There are laughs to be had and few jokes fall flat. The film’s joviality and persistent grin nearly dares you to dislike it, but it is that undaunted happiness that inevitably keeps the film afloat. It isn’t the best computer animated film to hit theaters this year and it definitely resides on the more immature side of the scale (I mean, it’s a film that highly features a fart gun; that’s a gun that shoots farts, just in case your inner child was dead), but Despicable Me 2 is an unquestionably good time if ultimately inconsequential.
[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. The degree to which you enjoyed Despicable Me directly translates to how you will feel about its sequel. Despicable Me 2 isn’t really any better than the film it follows, but it definitely isn’t worse. The story is unremarkable, feeling very familiar and absolutely predictable, but it is strong enough to support the light romp that is the film.[/notification]