In the time since we last saw Gru, Margo, Edith, Agnes and the minions, they have grown into a family. Gru plays loving father to his three, adopted daughters, going out of his way to cater to them as individuals. His life of crime is behind him, and he and Dr. Nefario have turned his secret lair into a jams and jellies factory. At Agnes’s birthday party, Gru dresses up as a fairy princess to fill in for the one he’d hired for the party, while the moms of the other kids at the party keep trying to set him up with their single friends.
However, when an arctic research station is stolen, along with a chemical that can turn the most gentle bunny into a vicious, purple killer (between Despicable Me 2 and The Lone Ranger, vicious bunnies are having a moment), the Anti-Villain League decides to turn to Gru for help. After initially turning them down, he reconsiders and joins forces with them, in part to partly fulfill the longing for his old way of life. He’s assigned an AVL agent, Lucy Wilde, and the two of them set up shop (literally) in a mall where they suspect the chemical has been taken. And all the while, Gru’s minions seem to be disappearing.
There’s really not much to the main story to Despicable Me 2, especially when compared to the plot of the first film. It’s pretty clear early on who the villain is, though the film tries a bit of misdirection, and the villain’s evil scheme isn’t particularly interesting. But where the main story might be less than perfect, everything surrounding it is still as enjoyable as ever. Steve Carell returns to voice the oddly-accented Gru, and he does a great job of showing the different aspects of Gru’s personality: loving and overprotective father, exasperated boss (to the minions), single parent, and that of a man struggling to figure out where he fits in the world. Kristen Wiig also returns, though voicing a different character this time, and her overly enthusiastic Agent Wilde is a fun addition, though she’s not given much to do.
Gru’s girls are still delightful. Agnes is still obsessed with all things cute and fluffy, Edith is the black sheep with violent tendencies, and Margo, as the oldest, is still the leader of the pack. Margo gets her own subplot as she gets her first boyfriend, who may or may not be the son of an evil villain, but who Gru hates regardless. I’m sure there are many parents who wish they could just “Freeze Ray!” their child’s first crush. The girls are adorable and are really the heart of this franchise, in a way that feels surprisingly genuine in such a ridiculous film. They’re sweet without every being sappy (and this is from a person who loves sap). The moments as simple as tiny Agnes bringing an umbrella out to Gru, who is sulking and sitting in the rain, and talking to him in her honest way are what give this movie a leg up on the others out there with the same target audience.
And then there are the minions. These little, yellow, be-goggled, pill-shaped creations are the most creative and entertaining part of this franchise. It’s no wonder they’re getting their own prequel film next year. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought, “You know, I could just watch these little guys running around being themselves for 90 minutes.” I guess next year we’ll see if I was right. The minions provide the bulk of the film’s humor, and it’s anarchic spirit. Whether they’re daydreaming about romance, playing dangerous games of Putt-Putt, suffering what would otherwise be tragic workplace accidents, or simply laughing at funny words or slapstick, the minions are always entertaining to watch. (Everything also becomes at least twice as funny if your theater is full of kids. I challenge you not to laugh when they start repeating the “Bee-doe, bee-doe, bee-doe” firefighter sound from the trailer.) I actually think the minions are one of the great animated creations of recent years. They’re purely for comedy, and the don’t rely in any way on voice actors, dialogue or context. They’re funny in a way that works regardless of your age.
As for Despicable Me 2, it feels sort of like the later Shrek sequels. After connecting to the characters and the world in the first film, it’s fun to simply return to that world and see how Gru and the gang are getting along. I just wish that this sequel had followed Shrek 2’s example of how to take what we loved about the first film and give us more. Despicable Me 2 feels a bit less. All of the parts are still there, along with some enjoyable new characters, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It’s still a fun and funny movie, and I have no problem with more films in the years ahead, I just hope the next film is more memorable. But until then, bring on Minions.
(As a side note, Gru’s character arc contains a love story, which is fine, but the film also seems to have a somewhat derogatory take on single parents. Early in the film, Agnes comes to Gru asking him to help her rehearse for her part in the school’s Mothers’ Day play. He listens to her speech (she’s hilariously monotone) and then she expresses worry about performing when she doesn’t have a mother. He advises her to imagine that she has one, and that she doesn’t need a mother to be in the play. But the girls are convinced that Gru needs to be married (just like the other mothers from the party), and first try to sign him up for online dating and then want him to marry Agent Wilde. As I said, I don’t have a problem with a love story, and I’m sure many children of single parents want to see their parents in a relationship, but the film gave the vague impression (though never stated outright) that Gru’s girls needed a mother, or that Gru needed to be in a relationship, something I imagine some single fathers would object to. I don’t think that was their intention; after all, the girls seem completely happy with just Gru for a parent, and they are interested in setting him up mostly because they don’t want him to be alone. But generally, while the first movie took a nontraditional situation and made it a family, the sequel seems to be advocating a more traditional family dynamic. As I said, nothing is overt, it’s more of a very gentle undercurrent, but I felt like it deserved mentioning.)