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Despicable Me 2

When I originally wrote about the mediocre “Despicable Me” back in 2010, I ended my review on somewhat of a snarky note, saying that it was “like a fat kid running down the street” and that “it probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.” Three years later, my foot has been firmly planted in my mouth and the film has found enough success to warrant a sequel. Yet some things never change. What worked before works here and what didn’t is still ever prevalent. This isn’t a case of a sequel trying to improve on the original. It’s a case of a studio looking at their product, seeing how closely it resembled its predecessor and saying, “Good enough.” Fans of the original will likely enjoy this as well and bring it plenty of success, so I guess I should update my snarkiness to fit a more believable outcome. “Despicable Me 2” is like that surprisingly athletic fat kid running down the street. It shouldn’t get very far, but it somehow does.

Gru (Steve Carell) has given up his evil ways. Those three kids he fell in love with in the first movie, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier), are now his entire life and he wants to support them through legitimate means, namely by producing the most awful tasting jelly imaginable. However, he’s soon recruited by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and the Anti-Villain League, an organization dedicated to stopping crime on a global scale. Their current investigation has to do with the disappearance of a top secret research facility in the Arctic Circle that contained a dangerous transmutation serum. Given that Gru was once the most brilliant villain on the planet, they need his help, so despite his initial reluctance, he sets out to find the serum and stop the mastermind behind its disappearance.

Like the previous installment, “Despicable Me 2” does not lack an imagination. The sight gags, particularly that come from the mall Gru and Lucy spent most of their time in, are clever and well placed and the minions, those adorably clueless little yellow guys, are just as loony as ever. Their expanded roles in this movie that, without spoiling anything, are central to the overall plot, make way for some great moments that are easily the most memorable and enjoyable of the entire thing. The problem is that much of their humor and, indeed, the entire film’s humor derives from slapstick comedy, the laziest, cheapest, most lowbrow from of humor there is.

Within the first 10 minutes alone, someone falls off a roof, gets hit with a medieval type mace and car, sprayed with a hose and tasered. The movie clearly has a young demographic in mind, an understandable focus, but it caters to them not by offering witty and well written stories like the majority of Pixar or DreamWorks animated films, but rather by appealing to their most basic senses, not unlike when a baby laughs at their parent getting hit in the face with something. What little story it does have is rudimentary and predictable: another love story. The kids, as much as they love Gru, want a mother, so they pressure him into dating, which leads to an overarching theme that is no more effective than the underexplored blossoming of young Margo.

What “Despicable Me 2” is sorely missing, and what “Despicable Me” had in abundance, is a strong antagonist. Vector, voiced so wonderfully by Jason Segel, was a strong character whose eccentric personality and ideals conflicted with Gru’s, leading to a battle of wits that added an ever-so-subtle layer to the original film. This movie lacks that. Because the bad guy is a mystery for the majority of its runtime, no real threat or character is every really established, just the veiled persona the villain hides behind.

Still, “Despicable Me 2” does offer up the same charm of the first movie, even if it is less significant in what amounts to little more than a rehash. It’s inoffensive, goofy and bound to put smiles on the faces of the children and parents in the audience. But with a plethora of other, more meaningful animated films with wonderful messages about growing up and coping with the harshness of life (including the recent “Monsters University”), this just feels like a time waster. It’s by no means terrible, but “Despicable Me 2” needs to do a whole lot more than throw its characters around like abused ragdolls to make it worth the price of admission.

Despicable Me 2 receives 2/5


Despicable Me

At this point, it almost seems unfair to compare every computer animated movie to Pixar. Who can compete? Outside of a select few DreamWorks Animation pictures, none have been good to the point where I thought Pixar may have some competition. So whose fault is it? The random assortment of animation studios for putting out less than stellar movies or Pixar for setting the bar so high nobody can reach it? I suppose it doesn’t matter, but after the debut of the recent Toy Story 3, one can’t help but look at Despicable Me with an exhausted chagrin.

The film follows Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), an evil mastermind who has not only stolen the Jumbotron from Times Square, but also the Statue of Liberty (the tiny one from Vegas). He considers himself the most evil of all in the land, but a young villain by the name of Vector (voiced by Jason Segel) has just stolen one of Egypt’s pyramids and replaced it with an inflatable version. The media is calling it the greatest heist ever pulled off. Gru, taking offense, decides to do one better. He plans to steal the moon. But to do so, he needs a shrink ray, the one that Vector has in his palace. After discovering Vector’s love for cookies, Gru adopts three little orphan girls named Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove) and Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher) who have the delicious edible resources necessary to distract him, allowing Gru to break in and snag the device. Little does he know he’s about to face some self discovery and may actually come to love the girls.

When people tell me animation is only for children, I become distraught. They clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. To counter, I point them in the direction of Wall-E, Up or even the Toy Story movies. Those films may be accessible to kids, but those who will get the most out of them are adults. They are about love and loss, identity, holding on to old memories and more. With that said, Despicable Me's messages, however admirable they may be, will only work for those who haven’t yet had the life experience to discover them on their own.

Still, as far as kid-oriented films go, this isn’t so bad. Compared to Planet 51 or the atrocious Furry Vengeance, Despicable Me comes off like a sparkling gem. It teaches kids the importance of family while also showing that it’s never too late to make things right. Children, as rotten as they can be, will watch as Gru finds the value in love, displacing his evil ways in the process, and they’ll take something from it.

It’s simpleminded to be sure, which is why it may not work for the adults in the audience who have already gained the knowledge that family is important, as evidenced by the fact that they’re most likely sitting in the theater watching it with their children. This thematic pandering to the young bleeds through its messages, however, and infiltrates the jokes, most of which go the easy route of making kids laugh, complete with farting, puking and the tired sight gag of a seemingly fragile granny suddenly break her stereotype.

I think children will enjoy Despicable Me. But where it succeeds in hitting its target audience, it fails at notarizing itself as anything more. To put it plainly, it lacks the visual artistry and emotional depth of a Pixar film. It’s hard to criticize a movie for wishing to appeal to kids and succeeding, considering how recent dreck like Marmaduke can’t even do that, but I’m not a child and can only speak for myself. While not a vapid waste of time, Despicable Me is like a fat kid running down the street. It probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.

Despicable Me receives 2.5/5