Despicable Minions have heart and humor, but 'Despicable Me 2' has a weak story

'Despicable Me 2' stars Steve Carell as the voice of former villain Gru. 'Despicable Me 2' is the sequel to the 2010 film.

Universal Pictures/AP
'Despicable Me 2' features the return of villain Gru's minions (pictured), small yellow creatures who speak an incomprehensible language.

In Despicable Me 2, we see that former super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has settled into the routine of fatherhood, which includes throwing princess-themed parties for his three adopted daughters – Agnes (Elsie Fisher), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) – and having Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and Gru’s army of Minions spend their time making a new brand of jam, rather than weapons or gadgets for nefarious purposes.

Gru winds up being kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), who is an agent for the Anti-Villain League: a secret global organization that specializes in stopping master criminals who are bent on world domination, as presided over by the snooty Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan). At first, Gru refuses their request to help track down a mysterious figure who is responsible for stealing a dangerous mutating chemical compound (by using a giant magnet). Old habits die hard, though, and soon Gru’s back in the game – only this time, he’s saving the world.

As suggested by the film’s Minion-centric trailers, Despicable Me 2 unfolds as part sequel to the original 3D animated hit Despicable Me, part extended prologue to the Minions spinoff arriving in theaters next year. The final result is a sequel that lacks the clever storyline – an examination of the line between villains and do-gooders from a different perspective – and has a weaker emotional core than its predecessor, but keeps all the inspired lunacy and cartoonish energy cranked up to the same level. Overall, though, there is enough heart and humor included to make the movie a breezy and charming viewing experience.

Despicable Me 2 was developed by the same team of people that collaborated on the first movie, which includes co-writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul along with co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (everyone but Coffin also worked on The Lorax). This film allows those creative minds – who reside at Illumination Entertainment – to continue and position themselves as the modern equivalent of Chuck Jones, with their brand of Looney Tunes-esque satirical jokes, expressive slapstick and vibrant animation that makes proper use of cartoon physics and logic. That lets Despicable Me 2 appeal as much to adults as younger moviegoers, even though the sequel is (as a whole) geared more towards kids in the audience than the first movie.

Script-wise, Daurio and Paul fail to provide Gru with a character arc that’s equally-touching as his personal journey from self-involvement to paternal nurturing in the first movie. Nevertheless, there is some fun to be had watching Gru in the sequel, as he navigate the treacherous waters of single fatherhood (which requires him to jump back into the dating pool and ward off unreciprocated interest from available suburban moms). Carell, as in the first Despicable Me, proves to be an excellent match for the voice-acting medium, with his amusingly undefined accent and lively vocal mannerisms as Gru.

In the film, Agnes and Margo once again represent different parenting challenges for Gru – Agnes unknowingly yearns for a maternal presence in her life, while the budding adolescent Margo has formed an interest in the opposite sex – and the results are touching and funny in equal measure; unfortunately, though, tomboyish Edith doesn’t have much to do. Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig voiced Miss Hattie in the first Despicable Me, but in the sequel the role of Agent Wilde proves to be a better match for her sense of anxious comedic timing. Indeed, Wiig’s vocal quirks are synced perfectly with her animated counterpart’s on-screen action and help make the flirtations between Gru and Lucy enjoyable to watch.

Notable voice additions in the sequel include Coogan as the chinless Ramsbottom, Benjamin Bratt as the macho Mexican restaurant owner Eduardo Perez, and Moisés Arias as Eduardo’s hipster son, Antonio. Their vocal tendencies are a solid fit for the stylized and caricature-like physical designs of their respective cartoon alter-egos, but the same cannot be said for Ken Jeong in a minor role as the peculiar wig store owner named Floyd Eagle-san. (Jeong, for the record, also voiced a talk show host in the first movie; his character in the sequel is perhaps even less memorable.)

Of course, there’s no way to properly talk about Despicable Me 2 without touching on the expanded role that the Minions play in the film’s madcap proceedings. The diminutive yellow critters may have their own (semi-)indecipherable language, but their brand of humor is essentially a throwback to silent film comedy, between the over-the-top physical gags, pantomime-style bits, frequent costume changes, and even a Minion fantasy sequence. Problem is, so much of the sequel is devoted to concocting scenarios where the Minions riff on and lampoon just about every social and/or pop cultural trend you can imagine (often to very funny effect), it makes the main storyline and character sub-plots feel like an afterthought at times.

Despicable Me 2, in other words, suffers because the filmmakers seemingly went too far by over-emphasizing the side elements that audiences loved about the first movie. Fortunately, unlike when, say, Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was upgraded to a larger role in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, the Minions have yet to be watered down to the point where they lose the idiosyncratic spark that made them memorable in the first place (there’s even an in-joke about that, with regard to the disgusting jam mass-produced by the Minions). That’s good to know, considering what lies ahead in the future of the Despicable Me franchise (as teased in the film’s mid-credits scene).

Similarly, there’s enough inventiveness present in the film’s visual design and use of the 3D computer-animation medium to elevate Despicable Me 2 far enough so that the film manages to overcome shortcomings in its basic storytelling approach. Those who adore the Minions – and want to spend more time having some light-hearted fun in the zany Despicable Me universe – should get what they are looking for in the sequel (which, if you enjoyed the first movie’s usage of 3D, is worth the higher ticket price for a 3D screening).

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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