“Despicable Me 2” ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Every once in a while, a movie made for children will surprise me, either because I’m moved by the emotional richness of the script, or something visually astounds me. The original “Despicable Me” wasn’t entirely either of those things, it just made me laugh. Ok, so the scene in the original centered around the three girls and the finger puppet kittens was heartwarming, but not in the same way that Disney or even DreamWorks does ‘schmaltz’. It’s fair to say that the sequel has even less heart, and more hyperactivity than the first.
The story centers around Gru, the former supervillain turned ‘legitimate business man and single dad, who gets pulled back into the mix by the ‘AVL’ (Anti-Villain League). They need him to use his vast knowledge of nefarious ways to pinpoint a new villain that’s using a ‘serum’ that turns things into purple-hued monsters once injected. He’s partnered with Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an intense AVL agent who (mild spoiler alert) might just be quirky enough to accept Gru for who he is! Cue the awkward ‘getting to know you’ moments between the two, the hints from the three adopted girls about getting their dad out on the dating scene, and weave it with the search for the supervillain behind the purple serum, and minions doing their thing, which includes fart guns, singing 90s R&B ballads in minion-speak, and occasionally smacking each other. The villain is fine, and occasionally funny while playing up the cultural stereotypes.
Getting back to hyperactivity on-screen, I know that ‘kids these days’ possess tiny attention spans, enjoy ‘shiny’ things, and opt for fart jokes or colliding minions to genuine humor, but I’ve reached my limit. The octogenarian part of my conscience tells me the sugar-induced, ping-pong style of animation lately exceeds acceptable levels, to the point of distraction, and ultimately, boredom. Lately, my child doesn’t remember the personalities of most animated characters, or the story arcs, but reminiscing about fart noises and minion speak is easy. It’s possible that because he’s a boy, those types of silly things are top of mind. I know that “Despicable Me 2” isn’t around to do anything other than make money, and it has already succeeded greatly in doing that, but I don’t know exactly what it accomplishes other than existing as a bloated blooper reel. The creator, Chris Meledandri, has made a name for himself creating beautiful animation that farts, dances, and plays nostalgic or trendy music to get our attention, in an attempt to steal some thunder from the Disney/Pixar machine. The minions sure are initially funny- the first few hundred times they have a slap fight. After that the slapstick humor turns into tired humor. Then they struggle to make someone laugh, then throw in some hyperactive moments. There’s nothing truly original here. It’s the same idea as “Three Guys and a Little Lady” with the math switched around, mixed with some moments reminiscent of “The Incredibles”, and enough new faces to sell more merchandise at Universal Studios.
My last thought- the filmmakers created this universe, but appear to have only a smattering of villains, and no ‘heroes’? That’s depressing; I figured at this point we’d hear about the ‘Superman’ of this particular world. If this individual doesn’t exist, then how do they define who the villains are? How does the Anti-Villain League operate- is it like MI-6, with Double O agents, or do they call on individuals with extreme intelligence and engineering skills to combat the evil people? Maybe I’m just too caught up in traditional definitions of good versus evil and worthwhile animation and blah. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it (likely). Either way, just like “Monsters University”, “Despicable Me 2” is unnecessary, feels incomplete, but isn’t terrible.