This sequel to Universal’s surprise 2010 hit knows that it’s meant for children and sets out to please only that audience. It works. Bright, colorful, and well-acted, Despicable Me 2 boasts everything necessary to thrill young children. Parents may find themselves checking their cell phones, however. They’ll find none of the depth or heart contained in Pixar’s WALL-E or DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon.
Despicable Me 2 picks up with reformed supervillain Gru (Steve Carrell) being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to foil another mad genius who has stolen a formula capable of turning animals into a super-powered, purple monsters. While following the trail of the unidentified villain, Gru contends with nosey neighbors, government bureaucrats, and the machinations of his three adopted daughters, who desperately want to see their new dad settle down with a wife.
I probably made the movie sound more complicated than it is, because it’s fairly straightforward. Gru—teamed up with a chirpy partner named Lucy (Kristen Wiig)—tracks his target to the food court of a local mall where he spends the rest of the flick casually snooping around. He and Lucy connect and eventually become fond of each other. All of these loose strands are eventually resolved and the story is wrapped up in a nice, tidy package. The movie doesn’t offer any surprising twists or turns.
At a mere 98 minutes in length, Despicable Me 2 feels padded. With not much in the way of plot, the filmmakers rely on extended sequences involving Gru’s Minions—the army of cuddly yellow creatures that have successfully driven the franchise’s marketing into the stratosphere. Speaking only in incomprehensible streams of phonemes, the Minions are innocent and lovable. Sequences involving them are filled with slapstick humor and are sure to delight children. They keep the movie’s tone light and ensure that there’s a solid gag or laugh every few minutes.
Despite being the movie’s greatest asset, the filmmakers’ overreliance on the Minions to keep the kiddies entertained is also a hindrance. They’re too often used as a crutch; sequences involving the critters don’t really do much to advance the plot and they don’t add much in the way of depth to the story. Rather, these sequences play more like humorous short films that were injected into Despicable Me 2 to bloat it into a full length feature.
There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it’s easy. And that’s Despicable Me 2 in a nutshell: It’s safe and simple. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. This is a family movie aimed at young children. The filmmakers here stand head-and-shoulders above the bulk of their competition in the family market based solely on the fact that they bothered to put together a movie with a real story that relies on more than fart jokes to hold it together.
But movies like Despicable Me 2 reinforce the stereotype that animated movies are just for children. I know I swore off family fare after the end of the Disney Renaissance in the ‘90s precisely because the big animators elected to appeal only to children. Movies like The Incredibles, WALL-E, Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and Wreck-It Ralph have done a lot in the past decade to alter that stereotype. It’s just a shame that a juggernaut as big as the Despicable Me franchise declines to follow that trend.
And again, I suppose I’m unfairly faulting Despicable Me 2 for what it doesn’t do as opposed to praising it for what it does well. Despicable Me 2 boasts a decent story, gorgeous animation, and a cast composed of unique, appropriate voices. This isn’t just a cheap, ugly cash-in with horrible celebrity voice-overs from the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Jack Black. This isn’t Open Season or Shark Tale.
A quick glance at Despicable Me 2 reveals that care and thought was placed into this production at every level. This movie doesn’t do anything wrong; it just doesn’t take any risks. It’s an obligatory sequel resting amidst the summer sea of obligatory sequels and by-the-numbers reboots. Children will love it; parents will likely find themselves bored beyond belief. The parents of young children would be better served by taking their kids to see Monsters University instead.