THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"DESPICABLE ME 2"
Despicable Me was a very unusual animated film. Its central character, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), was an anti-hero, a madman who hatched a plot to the steal the moon. The bad guy was a villain even more evil than Gru. And whereas the protagonist in most animated films is cute and cuddly, Gru was all pointy and angular. This subversion of the standard is probably a big reason why it was such a major box office hit. (Those little yellow Minions helped, too.) Despicable Me 2 would seem to be at a disadvantage, given that by the end of the original, Gru had become an old softie. Having the character use his knowledge of evil in service of heroism largely helps the movie get around that problem, though.
The film opens with Gru happily living with his three adopted daughters. They feel he's lonely and in need of companionship, but he is vehemently opposed to their attempts to set him up on dates. One day, Gru is visited (abducted is more like it, actually) by Lucy (Kristen Wiig), a member of the Anti-Villain League. The organization needs his help locating a criminal mastermind who is posing as the proprietor of a shopping mall store. Gru quickly ascertains that the villain is El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), a man reported to be nearly invincible. The bad guy has invented a serum that creates super-strength, which he tests out on a few of Gru's Minions. While fighting to stop El Macho, Gru begins to notice that he's developing feelings for Lucy.
Although Gru is more of a good guy this time, it's nice that Despicable Me 2 hasn't completely softened his edges. He still maintains an air of crankiness toward most of the people he encounters (his little girls aside). Gru also knows a lot about being evil, and the movie benefits from this. Some of the most clever scenes involve Gru trying to deduct what El Macho will do before he does it. Taking this approach keeps Despicable Me 2 firmly in the tradition established by the original, even if our hero isn't quite so despicable anymore.
Storytelling honestly isn't the strongest suit in either film. Both lack the tight narrative that distinguishes the best of the modern animated films (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, etc.). Despicable Me 2 could have pushed its ideas even further, having Gru struggle more with taking on a heroic role and getting beyond his basic nature. There are also moments, especially in the middle, where the plot meanders a little bit. As adorable as the Minions are, they function much like Scrat in the Ice Age pictures; the story has to stop occasionally to give them a “moment.”
While that may not be so good strictly from a plot point of view, I'd be lying if I said the Minions weren't the most enjoyable thing in both films. They're darned funny, even if their antics are occasionally a distraction from the main thrust of the movie. This time, they get turned into purple demons, a transition that provides some of the biggest laughs. Knowing how popular the characters are, the makers of Despicable Me 2 have made the decision to give us a lot more of them. The Minions are crowdpleasers, and their antics this time will absolutely generate laughs among kids and adults alike.
Gru, like the Minions, is funny, and El Macho makes for a very amusing villain. Imagine Puss in Boots from the Shrek pictures trapped in the body of a sumo wrestler and you'll get the idea. The characters are all appealingly created, and the visual look of the film is inherently pleasing. Despicable Me 2 doesn't belong in the top ranks of animated fare but, like its predecessor, it contains enough humor, charm, and warmth to make it a solid family film.
( out of four)
Despicable Me 2 is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.
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