Movie Review: “Despicable Me 2”

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For Minions maniacs!

Despicable Me 2, the new animated comedy from Illumination Entertainment, is a charming children’s movie with a lot of heart. It revisits the hapless Gru (Steve Carell), an ex-would-be evil genius and current single dad. 

In the first movie, he found love when he adopted orphans Margot, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Baier and Elsie Fisher, respectively), who revealed a big softie's heart.

Now the girls think it's time their dad found himself a girlfriend (and them a mom). Will Gru find love with Lucy (Kristen Wiig), a whimsical secret agent with the the "Anti-Villain League," whom Gru meets when she kidnaps him by tasing him with a laser gun and hurling him into her car, which hurtles along until it plunges off a dock, becomes a submarine and drops to the bottom of the sea to the underwater headquarters of the AVL's head honcho (Steve Coogan)? I suppose there have been odder beginnings to great relationships.

It seems the AVL hopes to enlist Gru to fight an evil plot by his old nemesis (and competitor for the arch-villain title), El Macho. They suspect he is posing as "Eduardo," (Benjamin Bratt) who runs a Mexican restaurant at a nearby shopping mall. Gru may need the help of Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), his answer to "Q," who's back as well.       

But the great attraction here is those lovable, loyal Minions! Gru's crack henchmen, they’re in the great tradition of the Keystone Cops. The Minions look like sawed-off Twinkies or yellow Tic-Tacs, wear goggles and overalls (except for cross-dressers Stuart and Phil), and speak in an oddly mellifluous babble. 

Careening, falling, tripping, jostling and joshing, knocking each other around, pouring gasoline on every fire they are called on to put out before rallying to somehow save the day in spite of themselves, the madcap Minions make for mightily merry movie-time.

There is even some Gizmo-to-Gremlin business here, when El Macho shoots the Minions full of a kind of steroid that turns them into his big, purple, freaked-out (albeit still uncomprehending) goon squad. As to the question of whether Despicable Me or its sequel is the superior film, I have to give the nod to Part 2 in that it features more Minions mayhem.   

As Gru, Steve Carrell performs in a funny accent of unidentifiable provenance, with a nod to every great movie evil-genius voice, from the Bond films to Dr. Strangelove. For an actor, a voiceover performance must be a collaboration of a rather unique kind. You're collaborating not just with the director, but with your animated avatar as well.    

Seeing an animated film reminds us that, whatever else it is, a movie is at heart a story told in pictures. Colorful and kinetic, Despicable Me 2 takes full advantage of the cartoon medium (there is a lot of Roadrunner in the filmmakers’ game). 

While the animated world of Despicable Me 2 is mightily inventive, I wouldn't say it's quite as impressively rendered as, say, the one in Rango, nor does it have the handmade quality that made Coraline special. Still, there is plenty of visual wit and wimsy. I like the way Gru's house looms up, comically dark, shoehorned into the white-picket fence suburban neighborhood.     

An animated comedy must have a couple great set pieces, and here we get that domed mall–its own universe–where Gru and Lucy go undercover in search of El Macho's true identity. Then there is El Macho's lair itself, perched precariously on top of a cliff, the site of the great showdown and also a party for his son Antonio (Moises Arias), a self-absorbed cool kid whom Edith thinks is dreamy. I also liked the party hats: sombreros made of crispy tortilla. You just chip off a piece, reach up and dunk it in the guacamole moat running around the crown. 

Once again the directors are Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and the screenwriters are Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. These are grownups making entertainment for children: Professionals and adults, but adults who never lost their sense of childlike wonder and fun (Coffin and Renaud perform many of the Minion voices themselves). Good children's films can probably only be made by people who have managed to maintain that very tricky balance. 

When we as adults laugh at the Minions, or delight at Gru's antics, we're giving an affectionate nod to the child that's still there in us. It's good to see his or her smiling face. I've got to admit that it even got a little dusty in the theater at the end when Gru finds love and happiness again.   

Oh, and I should say: the Minions singing All 4 One's "I Swear" is worth the price of admission by itself. When they take the chorus, it sounds like they’re singing "underwear."

Born in Athens, Ohio, Scott Pfeiffer has lived in Chicago since 1993. He did a minor in film at Ohio University back in the day. These days, he knocks about Chi-town, taking in film, music and theater. Read his other reviews at The Moving World.