Despicable Me 2 is the followup to the 2010 original from Universal and Illumination Entertainment. The film was the studio’s debut and was a huge surprise hit. It’s the only non-Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks movie on the list of the top 20 animated films of all time at the box office, earning over a quarter of a billion dollars domestically. Since this isn’t Pixar, a sequel is a given, is expected, and is looked forward to.

dm2aAfter adopting the three little girls in the first film and giving up a life of crime to focus on raising them, Gru has settled into domestic life — throwing a princess party, getting setup on dates by the other moms, and even starting his own jelly business from his former evil laboratory. But his new life gets turned upside down when a quirky agent from the Anti-Villain League recruits him to help defeat the latest bad guy to threaten the world.

Before I lay into the plot, let me say up front that this is a fun and funny film. There are lots of laughs. And I admit I can’t help but love the minions! But while a good time will be had, from a story point of view the film is a mess. Several plot strings are dangled in front of us but then none of them are satisfactorily progressed. Gru goes undercover in a bakery with some of his minions — but other than the one scene where we discover this information, it is never mentioned again. Margo gets a crush on a boy who happens to be the son of a suspect — that goes no where other than a chance for a few overprotective dad jokes. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Gru is a dad at all through most of the film as the kids almost seem like an afterthought. In fact, Edith, the middle child quite literally does nothing in the film and is only occasionally seen karate chopping something to give the character some obligatory screen time. And in taking the kids and Gru’s relationship with them out of the equation, you’ve also taken out a lot of the heart.

The search for the villain from among suspects is by far the worst story issue as it one of the main plot lines of the film. Gru goes undercover at a mall because one of the store owners is suspected to be the bad guy they’re looking for. So they begin looking at their potential perps. The first is tossed off the list immediately because Gru just can tell — that character is never seen in the movie again. The second is someone Gru actually knows of and we get a long detailed backstory. The third is some other guy. Then they stop looking. So from an audience perspective, it comes down to these two. Which is the one they want? It could be obvious: the shop owner they spend all that time on. Or they could be tricking us, and it could be the one they purposely didn’t say much about. I’m not going to spoil it. But suffice to say, either way is just bad storytelling. One is blatant and lazy, the other is gimmicky and unfair. Why not flesh out both characters and leave us guessing as to which direction you took as writers, not trying to decide which way you’re trying to fool us?

The plot line that works best, oddly enough for a film with “Despicable Me” in the title, is the love story. Gru’s assigned partner, Lucy Wilde, is a strange bird. At times she’s calm and collected, and others feisty and over the top. Gru treats her strictly in a detached professional manner. But his youngest daughter, Agnes, sees her potential new mommy-to-be — a reaction that shocks Gru, who until this point seemed to barely register that she was even a woman. It’s not the most convincing courtship, but it’s good enough and fun to see unfold.

dm2bIn the first film, the minions were basically background characters. In the sequel, they are front and center. Is that a good thing? In a way. Like Scrat in the Ice Age movies, they steal just about every scene they are in. And they are a major part of part of the plot. But the rest of their scenes are like bandages covering up the cracks in the story — cute, hilarious bandages. I can’t imagine liking the film as much as I did without them. But a bandage is just a temporary fix.

One last minor quibble: The trailers for Despicable Me 2 were basically straight uncut scenes from the movie. That made for some entertaining commercials. But every time we got to a point in the film that was from a trailer I knew two minutes of something I already had seen was coming up and it took me out of the moment a bit. That may be an adult thing though, as some of the kids in attendance were having a ball repeating favorite lines with the characters.

While the animation was not up to Pixar quality, and maybe even a step below Disney and DreamWorks, it was by no means bad. While I think they went a little overboard on the extremes of the designs of the new characters (most were very big or very small, very fat or very skinny, very pretty or very ugly, for example), I did otherwise very much like the looks. The spy gear, secret entrances, cool cars and other contraptions were all clever and fun to watch. And, again, I love the minions! They’re a great invention as there seem to be so many possible configurations of them. And the transformed minions were just as cool.

I’m a big fan of Steve Carell, but I hate the accent! Some will say it makes the character, I think it makes no sense! A generic foreign accent would have been a lot less distracting and annoying, but I understand that is purely a personal preference probably not shared by many! More than even Carell, I adore Kristen Wiig. And she was absolutely perfect in this film. A lot of credit goes to the animators for matching her personally so well on screen. I don’t know what goes into writing and voicing them, but the guys who do the minion voices are as much a part of the popularity of those things as the people who draw them.

Heitor Pereira’s score and Pharrell Williams’ music were a big part of what made the first film so entertaining and there is no slacking off here. They do just enough without going too far as a lot of films trying to sound hip do. One huge complaint I have about, not just this movie, but too many animated films these days, concerns the ending. Can we please, please, please, PLEASE come up with a better way to end these things than having the characters all start dancing until the credits roll? There has got to be a better way to wrap up your movies!

Despite giving most all the characters short shrift, despite the almost careless way the plot develops, despite their seemingly best efforts to have the film crash and burn, and despite a review that makes the whole thing sound unappealing, Despicable Me 2 isn’t unentertaining. It’s a harmless, fun night at the movies that kids will enjoy. And it won’t leave adults bored. In the end not despicable nor delightful — but disposable entertainment.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Despicable Me 2
July 3, 2013
98 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud