Illumination Animations, under the care of Universal, is not a studio who has developed anything that has ever truly come to stand toe-to-toe with the best of Dreamworks and Pixar. The Lorax certainly did nothing for me, and while the first installment in this franchise has gained an incredible following and is absolutely beloved, it never quite grabbed me in the same degree as everyone else. It was bright, breezy, colourful, and nice. Too nice. There is only so much cuteness I can take in one animated movie, and I’d like to think it is quite a high tolerance, Despicable Me pushed the my limits. It did not help that it was the weaker of the two animated movies that concerned the subversion of a super villain (the other being the vastly superior and surprisingly quickly forgotten Megamind). The sequel was most definitely not on the top of my hotly anticipated movies of this summer. But that is how relationships work I suppose, you have to see stuff they want to see as well apparently. However, it turned out to be a rather pleasant afternoon, not surprising as such, simply pleasing.
Despicable Me 2 finds former villain Gru (Steve Carell) as a full-time Dad to Margo, Edith, and Agnes, while also putting his minions to work to develop a small line of Jams and Jellies. It is fair to say he does, at times, miss the thrill of malevolent schemes and plots involving war domination. He is, however, soon given the chance to mean something to the world again, accept this time as its savior not its aggressor. When a secret genetic altering potion is stolen from a government facility, The Anti-Villain League turn to Gru to help them track down the evil mastermind behind the theft before they use it for nefarious means. Gru is partnered with new AVL recruit Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and together they must discover the identity of the thief before it is too late. All the while, the girls desperately attempt to convince Gru to enter a dangerous and highly treacherous world; the dating scene.
The plot is where the film holds no surprises. Despicable Me 2 is very content in following a cliched and predictable format; it knows its audience will pay to see whatever they churn out, and as long as its brightly coloured and filled with charming likeable characters then it does not need to offer anything innovative. As a result, it is not incredibly engaging or thrilling for an older audience member such as myself, with each action beat and plot development coming from a mile off. Yet, what also works for a younger audience also does help for an older generation. If the jokes come thick and fast and if the animation is impressive enough, there is enough to make a good movie, and that is very much the case for Despicable Me 2.
Relying 0n a good old dose of slapstick, the film zips along on refreshingly old fashioned brands of humour; the minions are nothing if not practically mini silent movie stars with a dash of French mime, all aided by the ridiculous voice work. Across the board the voice-work is spirited and engaging, Carell in particular having balls of fun. Benjamin Bratt on villain duties does a much better job then I think Pacino ever could have done in the role, having dropped out 2 months ago due to ‘creative differences’ (in short, he wasn’t being paid enough for his liking). Kristen Wiig is perhaps the least adventurous in her voice work, as she merely does the Kristen Wiig routine, but it works, and she is an incredibly likeable presence suitably matching the characteristics of the quirky off beat Lucy. Other voices you may recognize include Russell Brand (returning from the original), Steve Coogan, and Ken Joeng (he’ll be the horrible racial stereotype in a kids movie).
Where the original film certainly gained points for an original story and concept, Despicable Me 2 does not offer anything new to the animated sequel formula, particularly in regards to the romantic sub-plot. It makes for an aesthetically pleasing animation but not one that offers anything new. Its humour is refreshing due to reveling in joyous silliness, yet it is undemanding. Yes I know, it is a children’s movie, but kids are a lot more genre savvy than studio execs give them credit for, I’m sure even some of the younger audience are aware that they are being fed a competent copy of something they have seen before? Perhaps I’m giving kids too much credit.
I am sure there will be a Despicable Me 3, and when it arrives I will not be rushing out to watch it. Illumination is still yet to match the levels of their Dreamworks and Pixar counterparts. To look for a more mentally stimulating animation that isn’t as juvenile, then I’d imagine Monster University will offer much more in the way of a more adult friendly animation experience, but for the meantime Despicable Me 2 fits the bill for easy-going summer entertainment through the means of bright and colourful design, spirited voice-work and a wonderfully silly spirit.