Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Writers: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand
Release Date: July 3rd, 2013
Runtime: 1 hr. 38 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
2010’s Despicable Me was a surprise hit worldwide, pulling in more than half a billion dollars at the box office. It’s sequel, 2013’s imaginatively title Despicable Me 2, did even better, nearly doubling that total while hitting upwards of the $350 million mark domestically. But just because a sequel does better at the box office doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a better movie. Will Gru [Steve Carell] as a good guy be as entertaining as Gru as a bad guy was? Click through after the break to see my take.
Most of the ingredients that made the first film such a joy to watch are present here again, such as Gru’s relationship with his adopted daughters, and his slapstick minions. Gru has gone straight, in the parlance of master villainy, trying his hand at legitimate business. Deep within his secret lair, Dr. Nefario [Russell Brand] and the minions are busy at work, scheming…to produce jelly? Unfortunately for Gru, the jelly’s so awful even the minions won’t eat it, and Dr. Nefario decides that he’s going to take an alternative job offer, one offering more evil in the mix.
Following a birthday for his youngest adopted daughter, Agnes [Elsie Fisher], Gru, trying to mind his own business, gets attacked by an agent of the AVL (the Anti-Villain League) – Lucy Wilde [Kristen Wiig]. She overcomes him, and brings him in to meet her boss, Silas Ramsbottom [Steve Coogan]. Apparently, there is a new super-villain at work, and no one knows who he is – but they know where he’s based: a local mall. They convince (force?) Gru to work for them, and install him as a proprietor of a muffin shop at the same mall as the super-villain, where he and his new partner – you guessed it, Lucy – must try to expose the bad guy. Fairly early on, he thinks he’s discovered the villain, one that was quite famous several years ago; however, the AVL isn’t eager to believe him, as the villain in question died in a very public manner, and besides, Gru has an ulterior motive: the so-called villain’s son is getting a little too close to Gru’s eldest daughter, Margo [Miranda Cosgrove].
The AVL seems more intent on proving that Gru is incompetent rather than getting to the bottom of the case at hand, and they move in to make an arrest that is completely unrelated to Gru’s suggestions. He’s discarded, Dr. Nefario leaves him for a better job, and his whole world gets a little sadder as he realizes that, just maybe, he’s been developing feelings for the irrepressible Lucy.
The movie, however, really belongs to the minions. Gru as good guy is not quite as compelling as Gru as bad guy, but the minions basically steal every scene they’re in. In fact, the main plot device is only possible with the use of the minions themselves. This threatens to change the movie a bit too much, to move it into slapstick territory, but every time it goes almost too far, it steps back a bit and laughs at itself. Yes, fart jokes will get your kids laughing, but they may just get you laughing as well. The only problem I had with them is that they are far too close in tone and action to the Rabbids from the Rayman series of games. Here’s a link where you can see the Rabbids in action. Yes, this is from 2013, and the first Despicable Me movie came out in 2010, but the Rabbids go back even further, to 2006. Check them out to see what you think!
The appeal to children is apparent from the get-go. Minions acting as maids, as firemen, as scientists and workers, they’re everywhere in the movie, and always ready to elicit a good laugh. But for the adults who are tired of fart jokes, there are still plenty of things to enjoy, such as the shout-out to Love Boat fans when one of the minions is the spitting image of Isaac, the bartender, or the homage to 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers when a minion points and screams at another who is not, erm, the same. An early scene even has Gru dress as a fairy princess, which is reminiscent of several films where parents dressed up to keep their children entertained at birthday parties (such as Steve Martin in Parenthood).
The film is enjoyable for people of all ages, and tells a story that teaches friendship, family, loyalty, and sacrifice as values to admire. Gru as a good guy might not be as compelling as Gru as a bad guy – and he himself is having a hard time adjusting – but his humor, his gadgets, his daughters, and most importantly, his minions, are all here again. His chemistry with Lucy works well, and the viewer does find him to be a sympathetic character. By the end, we’re all pulling for Gru, because he’s a little like each of us – trying his best to succeed despite his lack of confidence in his ability to do so.
Steve’s Grade: B+
A fun movie that is entertaining for both children and adults. Funny bits don’t hide the powerful lessons the movie teaches to those who give it their attention.