Monday, July 08, 2013

Despicable Me 2 / *** (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Gru: Steve Carell
Lucy: Kristen Wiig
Margo: Miranda Cosgrove
Edith: Dana Gaier
Agnes: Elsie Fisher
Eduardo: Benjamin Bratt
Dr. Nefario: Russell Brand
Floyd: Ken Jeong
Silas: Steve Coogan

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud. Written by Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul. Running time: 98 min. Rated PG (for rude humor and mild action).

De•spi•ca•ble — adj. deserving to be despised: so worthless or obnoxious as to arouse moral indignation <despicable behavior>

Merriam-Webster defines the word “despicable” as “deserving to be despised.” For some reason this word has been applied by the filmmakers to the hero of the “Despicable Me” franchise, a criminal mastermind named Gru. At one point in time the word might have applied to Gru. He lives in a world where supervillains try to outdo one another with the brazen and public nature of their crimes. One such criminal stole one of the pyramids in the first film. Gru tried to retaliate by stealing the moon, but was tripped up by his own plan, which involved adopting three orphan girls to help him break into his nemesis’ lair. But Gru came to love these three little girls. Now, in a second film, Gru is not only far from despicable, he’s more like a hero; if not to the world at large, then at least to his three girls.

I suppose they couldn’t have changed the title completely. “Responsible Me” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But, Gru has changed his colors. Now, he is sought out by the AVL—the Anti-Villain League—to help them solve the theft of a research lab. Yes, the entire lab, where a serum was being developed that turns little rabbits into nearly indestructible killing machines. They believe the criminal mastermind behind the theft has set up shop at a Mall of America type of shopping mall. They want Gru to pose as one of the shopkeepers and sniff out the mastermind.

Meanwhile at home, little Agnes is yearning for a mother figure. Gru is a great dad. Perhaps his surprising skill at being a dad is making his girls wish that he could find a suitable companion for himself. The oldest daughter, Margo, is just discovering boys. Maybe Gru could use a little help with that one. I know I’m going to have trouble with it.

Gru is teamed with another agent, named Lucy. She’s also the agent who was sent to bring Gru into the AVL. After she tasers him, stuffs him into the trunk of her spy car, which also turns into a submarine and a plane, he suggests that next time the League might consider a phone call. Gru is not great with women. There’s another of Gru’s sad flashbacks to childhood, like in the first film, where we see how awful other people treated him when he tried to ask a girl on a date. There’s another sequence where the nosy neighborhood housewife sets him up on a date with her cousin. After Lucy saves him from it, they mutually dub it “The Worst Date Ever”. Perhaps the right woman is standing right in front of Gru.

“Despicable Me 2” is a perfectly respectable family movie. My wife described the first movie as “perfect.” In many ways, the second is a perfect sequel to the first. It’s cute. It’s non-offensive. It’s fun. It will make you laugh. It isn’t a laugh riot, but it’s good for the giggles. It’s almost too perfect. It doesn’t really take any chances. There aren’t really any surprises. At least not to the seasoned filmgoer, but it’s not really made for a seasoned filmgoer. It’s made for the kids. For the kids, it probably is perfect.

Gru’s minions are, of course, back for the second installment. They pretty much only serve the purpose of providing physical comedy to give the audience a break from the not so challenging story. They’re just as funny this time around as the last time. They feature a little more prominently into the plot this time. The evil genius who stole the serum also steals a good deal of Gru’s minions to turn into indestructible monsters. I worried that some boundary was going to be broken here by vilifying these innocent pranksters, but the filmmakers wisely steer clear of any such problems.

My favorite parts of both films, however, are the three girls. Perhaps its because I’m an adoptive parent myself. Perhaps it’s just because I’m a parent. Perhaps it’s just because I’m getting old and have seen too many movies, but watching those three girls just being little girls is funnier to me than any number of minions bonking each other on the head, and they warm my heart. The filmmakers do such a good job of capturing their ages and divergent personalities. Even though they theoretically all came from different gene pools, they are true siblings in how much they differ from each other. That might not make any sense to anyone who isn’t a parent, but it does to all who are.

Maybe I’m just being picky, but there weren’t enough of the girls in this movie. What was there was great, but how Agnes felt about Lucy was much more important to me than how Gru felt about her. Yeah, I suppose Agnes’s feelings wouldn’t much matter without Gru’s, but still. Agnes rules. I won’t complain too much, because… well, it’s a good little movie. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s worth the effort. 

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