“Despicable Me 2” is perfectly enjoyable

When Despicable Me came out in the summer of 2010, no one could have realized that it would end up being one of the biggest surprise success stories of the year in animated films. From the outset it already had three strikes against it, effectively making it dead on arrival: it had little to no hype behind it, was hindered by the fact that it wasn’t a sequel or adaptation of a known property, and was being released the same summer as Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and Dreamwork’s Shrek Forever.

So with all of that going against it, Despicable Me coasted into theaters with low expectations, banking on a heartwarming original story, cheery animation, Steve Carell’s bad Eastern European accent, and some adorable minions that resembled talking Corn Pops. But Despicable Me killed at the box office, and then kept right on delivering on the strength of positive word of mouth.despicable2

While the cynic in me wants to attribute the surprise success of that movie at least partly to those adorable minions and their brilliantly simple design (calculated, I suspect, solely to move merchandise and appeal to children and moms…and possibly me), the fact remains that Despicable Me stood out by juggling an interesting premise (the dull but demanding life of a super villain before he ends up adopting three sweet orphaned girls), with a compelling story.

Despicable Me, for all its summer laughs and thrills, was really a story centered on the theme of family: three orphaned girls who wanted to find a family and the bitter old man who never had one. So when a sequel was announced within almost the first three weeks of the positive box office returns, part of me immediately feared that Sony was simply going to cash in a check and put out a soulless sequel, devoid of the charm and heart that made the first movie stand out.

I’m pleased to say that while Despicable Me 2 doesn’t quite top the first film, it avoids the pitfalls of being just a cash grab. With director Pierre Coffin returning, the beloved characters from the first film are all respectfully brought back and continue their growing arc rather than hitting reset.

Gru (Steve Carell) has taken to his new life as a father and wants to finally put his mad scientist past behind him, opting instead to live life on the straight and narrow. But he finds himself dragged right back into his old world when he is kidnapped to be recruited by the mysterious Anti-Villain League, who needs his particular skill set and experience.

Gru is paired up with the charmingly zany AVL Agent Wilder (Kristen Wiig) to track down a stolen mutagen that may have been stolen by a super villain who is now undercover as a restaurant manager in a mall food court. Yes, it’s that kind of movie — and it only gets sillier from there.

Despicable Me 2 takes a while to get into its rhythm, relying a little too heavily on those minions and their antics to carry the first act. The manic energy is almost overwhelming, with too much style and not nearly enough substance, and after 40 minutes,  a plot finally emerges.

Once it finally finds its footing and settles on a storyline (after seemingly juggling five that go nowhere), Despicable Me 2 delivers enough on that punchy charisma and strong characters to make for a perfectly enjoyable family film.