Film Review: Despicable Me 2

Riotously funny sequel to the 2010 animated hit has reformed villain Gru embracing fatherhood and his romantic yearnings. All that, and Minions too!

Pixar (and every so often DreamWorks) may have made the more artful animated features of the last decade, but for sheer laugh-out-loud hilarity, nothing beats the Minions. The army of yellow, lima-bean-shaped, goggle-wearing, unruly yokemates to reformed villain Gru steals the show in Despicable Me 2, just as they did in their 2010 debut. That’s not to say this new effort from producer Chris Meledandri and directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin doesn’t have a lot more to offer. It’s a boisterous, wholly satisfying follow-up that takes the original premise in new directions and provides memorable moments for its entire cast of amusing characters.

Chief among those, of course, is erstwhile nefarious inventor Gru (once again brilliantly voiced by Steve Carell), whose plan to steal the Moon in the first film was interrupted by his encounter with three adorable girls in need of a father. The sequel finds Gru fully embracing parenthood, even going so far as to dress as a fairy princess when the woman he’s hired for the birthday party of his youngest, Agnes, is a no-show. The film quickly moves into high gear when Gru is abducted by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), a special agent for the Anti-Villain League, which wants to recruit Gru to help unmask the identity of an evil mastermind who’s stolen a very dangerous serum.

After some initial friction, Gru and the socially awkward Lucy learn to work together as they go undercover at the local mall where the suspect is thought to be hiding. Gru, who’s suppressed any romantic hopes since being ridiculed as a child, discovers a growing attraction to the ditzy Lucy; when his feelings are reciprocated, it’s the occasion for a delightful montage of the curmudgeon in happy-and-loving mode (soon to be followed by some darkly funny callbacks when the mystery is apparently solved and Lucy is transferred to a new assignment).

Up to then, suspicion has fallen on Eduardo Perez, the proprietor of the mall’s lively Salsa & Salsa restaurant, who bears a suspicious resemblance to the aptly named super-baddie El Macho, presumed dead after he propelled himself into a volcano while riding a shark strapped with explosives. Complicating matters: Gru’s teenage daughter (Miranda Cosgrove) has a crush on Eduardo’s ultra-cool son, Antonio (Moises Arias). Suffice it to say the case is not as airtight as it seems, and the real villain has horrific plans that involve our beloved Minions as guinea pigs.

Returning writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio’s madcap plot keeps the pace brisk and the gags flowing. Among my favorites: Gru’s absolute terror at the prospect of phoning up Lucy for a date; his hapless attempts to enter a secret chamber by dancing out the notes to “La Cucaracha” on a “Saturday Night Fever”-style lighted floor; and the startling transformation of the captured Minions. Along with all the Three Stooges-style slapstick, Despicable Me 2 also has heart, with a touching resolution for Gru, Lucy and the girls.

Wiig, who played a different character in the first film, is a perfect love interest for Carell’s Gru, and the animators have taken special care to capture the same jittery quirkiness she showed in her gallery of “Saturday Night Live” characters. Benjamin Bratt, a last-minute substitute for Al Pacino (who left over, ahem, “creative differences"), is a robust, entertaining El Macho. Russell Brand scores again as Gru’s chief henchman Dr. Nefario, who leaves for another employer now that Gru is good, and Steve Coogan diverts as stuffy Anti-Villain League head Silas Ramsbottom. And let’s not forget the immense contributions of directors Coffin and Renaud as the irresistible gibberish voices of the Minions.

Throughout, the production also takes pains to accentuate its 3D, best of all in a clever end-credits sequence which finds the Minions struggling to pry open the black screen and truly breaking the fourth wall.