There’s enough fun in Despicable Me 2 (2013) to pass, but only just. This is a completely serviceable, totally acceptable animated movie, one that doesn’t insult but engages and has plenty of color and laughs. Compared to its predecessor, Despicable Me (2010), a movie whose plot didn’t ask for a sequel but its box office demanded one, it disappoints but compared to, I don’t know, something else, it excels.
The movie reunites us with Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), the former master villain who put away nefarious things to care for his adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and the excitable Agnes (Elsie Fisher). Gru and the girls (or “gyurls” to Gru with his indeterminate Easter bloc accent) are settling into suburbia where busybodies try to set Gru up with the local singles and he trying his hand at legitimate enterprises like making homemade jellies and jams. However, the idyll is broken and Gru is recruited for his expertise by the authorities to discover the identity of a mysterious villain who has stolen the formula to a serum that turns docile creatures into unkillable monsters. Gru is partnered with Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and they attempt to crack the case (while falling, somewhat unconvincingly, in love). Assisting the pair is Gru’s minons; bioengineered two-foot tall Tylenols that serve at Gru’s command. The joke is that these minions, semi-identical and of which there are hundreds (many are voiced by the directors of the movie, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud), all have individual names and Gru can recognize them immediately as Bob or Kevin or Stuart. This could have been really funny if taken further but works the way it is.
However, that’s the problem with much of the movie, it doesn’t go far enough. The best animated movies, especially ones like Despicable Me 2 which exist only to be zany, take a situation to the logical extreme and then joyfully beyond it with madness compounding on madness. There’s only simple madness here and worse than that, madness that, by the time the movie ends, gets dangerously close to feeling tired. The plot unfolds as a series of wacky moments and within each moment the action builds to an apex, only the apex is what should be just the beginning. Whenever you find yourself thinking “Ok, this should be good,” the moment ends. Further, the movie falls into the dangerous pitfall of sequels, which confuses the concept of “expanding on an idea” with “the same idea, only more.” Here we get the feeling of a talented high school senior who sent the faculty into rapture with his last assignment but has, if not phoned it in, coasted and hit the same notes on his latest outing. It gets a passing grade but the makers of Despicable Me get a note on the paper that says “Push a little – you can be better than this.”
It could also, as the summer proves again and again, be much worse. There’s something irresistible about it’s desperation to entertain. It has an energy complete without an ounce of cynicism, which is admirable. This is a hyperkinetic experience but that frenzy never boils over into unintelligible sensation (though it never slows to the point that it can earn the emotional payoffs it strives for in the end, either) and its hard not to get caught up in it. If it’s temporary and trifling so be it, but the movie is likable and that isn’t cheap or easy. However, a couple more projects like this and you’ll have to see me after class.