Despicable Me 2

Since arriving on the scene in 2010, Illumination Entertainment has given kids (and many parents, too) three cute and charming movies– Despicable Me, Hop, and The Lorax. And though none of them had the narrative heft of, say, Pixar, they were each enjoyable in their own way– thanks to whimsical animation, some nice 3D work, or both.

Now Despicable Me 2 arrives in theaters, and it’s evident Illumination (under the guidance of founder Chris Meledandri) has been hard at work perfecting their animation technology, if not their storytelling.

Picking up not long after the original, the sequel finds bad-guy-turned-good Gru (Steve Carell) still living in his Gothic manse with his three adopted daughters Margo, Agnes, and Edith. (His opening sequence, which involves dressing up at Agnes’ Fairy Princess party, is alone worth the price of admission.)

After being recruited/kidnapped by the Anti-Villain League, Gru is asked to help track down whomever stole a secret lab (yes, the entire lab) to get a volatile transmutation serum capable of turning any creature into an indestructible wild thing.

The thing is, Gru has been spending his downtime making a delicious line of jams and jellies with his yellow, capsule-shaped minions. He likes his life, and he’s not too eager to get back into world-saving mode. At his daughters’ urging, though, Gru hops back on the horse, and the ultimate anti-hero is back in business.

The top-shelf creative team behind the original film is back again, including directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, along with screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, and they once again give us an enjoyable (and sometimes downright laugh-inducing) treat.

The animation is brilliantly done in a polished (though cartoon-y) style, reminiscent of The Lorax, and the story itself offers plenty of opportunity for hilarity along the way– some of the best of which comes during Gru’s blind date (yes, you read that right) with a vapid woman named Shannon (Kristen Schaal).

There’s also a nice helping of “charming” along the way, too, as Gru and fellow agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) start hitting it off. And there really hasn’t been anything cuter in movies recently than little Agnes and her love for her pointy-nosed, egg-headed, adoptive dad.

The one thing that’s missing (save for one too-brief scene) is nasty, evil Gru. Yes, he’s a changed man, and there would have been no real way to fit his old ways into the story except for in flashbacks, but there was something deviantly fun about seeing this guy freeze people in line at the coffee house or use Wile E. Coyote-like tactics to enter Despicable Me villain Vector’s lair. Instead, the villain this go-round is a wildly over-the-top buffoon named El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), who’s coming under fire from some camps for being drawn with broadly racist stereotypes.

It’s the minions, though, who end up stealing the show from everyone else along the way, particularly during the second half; it’s no wonder they’re getting their own movie in December of 2014. And Wiig spectacularly brings her looney-toon talents to the party.

What Despicable Me 2 lacks in evilness, it more than makes up for with its eye-popping animation and excellent use of 3D, not to mention it’s spot-on comedy. It’s easily as light and fun (and so fluffy, I’m gonna die!) as the original.

4/5 stars