The summer of 2013 will likely be remembered as a period of sequels for the computer generated animated feature film segment. Sure there are some original pieces sliding into the fray (Epic & Turbo for example) but the lion’s share of the media attention falls squarely on Pixar’s Monsters University, Universal Pictures’/ Illumination’s Despicable Me 2 and already the trailers are beginning to circulate for Disney’s third entry into the Cars universe: Planes.
Depending on who you are, the animated sequel thing can work- look at the Toy Stories and Shreks, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascars, and so on. That said, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when rumors started circulating a couple of years back that 2010’s surprise breakaway hit about a villain turned good guy would be getting a direct sequel as well as a spin-off film featuring the minions a year after that.
That brings us to the sequel itself- Despicable Me 2 does away with fancy tag lines and usual sequel fluffery and drops its viewer quickly into a brief reprise of Gru’s life as a former supervillain turned domestic daddy caring for three orphan girls. This time around we learn that his vast resources, technology and manpower (or Minion power as the case may be) are devoted to the business of producing a line of jellies and jams.
It doesn’t take long for Gru’s simple life of parenthood/ Smuckers wannabeism to come to a halt when Lucy Wilde, an agent representing the Anti-Villain League (AVL) abducts the baldheaded mastermind and takes him to a top secret meeting to plead for his assistance in solving a caper involving the disappearance of an Arctic laboratory responsible for the chemical agent PX-41. PX-41 is dangerous because of its ability to transform mammals injected with it into indestructible purple, wild-haired killing machines.
Intel leads the search into a local mall of all places, where a storeowner is suspected of harboring the precious chemical. Posing as operators of a food court bakery, Gru and Lucy are assigned the task of figuring out who is behind the lab’s disappearance before they have an opportunity to unleash the dreaded PX-41 on the world.
Sure it isn’t much of an extraordinarily rich plot, but it is serviceable enough to set up some genuinely funny moments and visually rich action sequences. It’s all but impossible not to find enjoyment in Steve Carell’s zany delivery as Gru; especially with a script that seems to hone in perfectly on all of the nuances that make the character tick.
Love em or loathe em, the yellow gibberish-spewing Minions are back with a vengeance and lend some comical moments in a variety of disciplines from light potty humor to all out slap stick to complex visual gags the likes of which wouldn’t be uncommon in an old Loony Tunes episode. There is little doubt Illumination realizes they have struck a chord in the world’s collective psyche with these guys and plan to milk the gimmick for all its worth.
Fortunately even the Minion overload doesn’t take much away from the overall entertainment value of the experience- the fact of the matter is there is something to laugh with, about or at going on in nearly every single scene of the film. Some of the gags are more in-your-face than others of course (which is sort expected in a piece that targets everyone from young children to the most cynical of adults) but certainly multiple viewings reveal layers of comedic charm one would expect from studios as refined and experienced as say Pixar or DreamWorks.
Perhaps the most notable element of the viewing experience comes from a quality that’s difficult to pinpoint but unmistakable just the same: the film resonates with the same goofy, almost sublime charm that made the first one so successful. Unlike something from Pixar that would try to awe you with cleverness or say DreamWorks where each sequence feels like it was refined a million times over in boardroom, Despicable Me 2 never feels like it’s working too hard to woo its viewer. The vivid, unbelievably rich visuals make it nearly impossible to look away while the characters simply do what they do. In the end you find yourself laughing at Gru’s dialog, the Minions’ antics, Dr. Nefario’s combination of brilliance and geriatrics, a new “very macho” villain, the unique gadgets (after all, what other movie can boast containing a 21 fart-gun salute?) or some combination of the above.
In the event that you haven’t been keeping up on such things, Illumination Entertainment has been the modern day incarnation of the King Midas myth. Beginning with the first Despicable Me and extending through Dr. Suess’ The Lorax and now with this sequel that in under a week has managed to bring in more than quadruple it’s $76-million dollar budget, it can truly be said everything these guys touch has turned to gold. Well not really gold so much as yellow- with goggles and blue suspenders.