Gru, that bald, beetle-faced super villain of 2010’s animation hit, has gone straight with a Smuckers-like jam-and-jelly business in “Despicable Me 2,” which seems quite appropriate for a sequel that’s tart and sweet but much less wickedly audacious than the original.
After the daft, moon-stealing zaniness of the first movie, this pleasant enough follow-up feels far less daring and far more calculated to cater to the giggly whims of its juvenile audience (and to sell them all manner of chirpy, yellow, roly-poly Minion action figures).
Gru (again voiced with vaguely Bulgarian pizzazz by Steve Carrell), so wonderfully megalomaniacal and crackbrained in the first film, is rendered here a bland nice guy. He’s settled down with his sickly sweet adoptive daughters – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dan Gaier) and tiny Agnes (Elsie Fisher) – and is determined be a good dad and to nurture an unpromising business in fruity condiments.
But soon enough Gru is recruited by the super-secret Anti-Villain League and its corpulent British honcho Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan). He’s teamed up with chipper agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig, who voiced an entirely different character in the first film) to track down an unidentified despicable despot who’s bent on world domination via a humongous building-sucking electromagnet.
The story is pretty formulaic but enlivened with loads of madcap mayhem and broad slapstick (and slightly naughty dashes of potty humor) and a sort of wishy-washy romance between Gru and Lucy. But front and center in this franchise-setting sequel are the gibberish-spouting, canary-yellow Minions, whose widget-like cuteness seems potent enough to tickle the fancy of any adolescent and to wiggle under the skin of any adult.
Returning French directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and scripters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul are probably wise to stay with what worked before and to infuse the tale with lots of absurdist, Looney Tunes faux-violence, family friendly sentimentality and sly word jokes to go along with the zippy 3D computer animation.
Though Carrell and Wiig give vocal performances that are slightly less antic than before, their characters are surrounded by vivid and florid supporting players with some appealing vocal quirks – including Russell Brand animating the mad scientist Dr. Nefario and the always outrageous Ken Jeong as wig store owner Floyd Eagle-san.
If “Despicable Me 2” gives us a far less than despicable (perhaps even toothless) Gru and an overload of riotous Minions (sometimes turned into purple meanies by a secret serum), it nonetheless has wonky charms enough to keep kids from squirming in their seats and adults from furtively eyeing the exits. It’s not Pixar, but what’s not to love?
- Dennis King
“Despicable Me 2”
2 ½ stars
Starring: voices of Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Ken Jeong
(Rude humor and mild action)