Silver Screen: Despicable Me II ***1/2
And then there’s the followup to Despicable Me, the 2010 toon that apparently won the supervillain battle against that year’s Megamind. Both movies, released in the space of a few months, were about supervillains who had a change of heart and crossed over to the other side. The Will Ferrell-starring Megamind was the superior of the two, with its surprisingly thrilling action sequences and a hilarious turn by Brad Pitt as arch nemesis Metro Man, while Despicable Me seemed powered by sticky sentimentality.
But the creative team of directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have outdone themselves in the sequel, which finds former mad scientist Gru (Steve Carell) pleasantly adjusting to his new life as a contributing member of society and father to three adopted girls. He’s recruited by Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an agent with the Anti-Villain League, to help track down a former fellow supervillain who has gone into hiding to hatch his latest scheme, which involves a stolen formula that turns friendly creatures into rampaging beasts.
Despicable Me II tugs at the heartstrings just as blatantly as the original, but at least a little more deftly. Gru is trying to deal with his oldest daughter’s flirtation with her first crush even as he tries to disregard his own feelings for Lucy. Meanwhile, his old pal Doctor Nefario (Russell Brand) is tired of using his super-science to create jams and jellies rather than mischief and mayhem, leaving him without a partner.
It’s straightforward stuff, but sharply executed and packed with pretty good jokes. A lot of the laughs come courtesy of the Minions, Gru’s yellow, pill-shaped legion of followers who scramble around each other and speak in an unintelligible babble. They have the propensity to become obnoxious and culturally omnipresent, à la the Noid or the California Raisins, especially with the announcement of 2014’s Minions spinoff movie, but at least for now they are undeniably pretty damned funny.
No animation studio has yet trumped Pixar’s most ambitious computer-conjured wonders like WALL-E, Ratatouille, or The Incredibles, but when the contest is reduced to who can make the most purely amusing bit of children’s entertainment, it’s anybody’s game.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.