Is it just me or are some filmmakers putting more time and effort into writing smart and well-made stories for animated movies these days than they do with live action ones? Despite all the admittedly stupid kids movies out there, the past few years we’ve been treated with the likes of Rango, ParaNorman, Wreck-It Ralph and now, Despicable Me 2.
Much like the other movies I mentioned, once you look past the more childish aspects of Despicable Me 2, you will find that a lot of thought has been put into its script, giving every setup a pay-off and every character arc a descent deal of development, moreso than most would expect from children’s films today. Much to my surprise, I liked this movie quite a bit.
In Despicable Me 2 we join Gru (Steve Carell), a supervillain who has abandoned his devious lifestyle in order to focus more on his three adoptive children; Margo, the smart one (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith, the tomboy (Dana Gaier), and Agnes, the adorable one (Elsie Fisher). Basically, they’re the Powerpuff Girls without the powers. Despite being abandoned by his nostalgic right hand man Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), Gru’s life has a father seems to go quite alright until he is suddenly confronted by a woman named Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who reveals that she is working for the top secret Anti-Villain League, who finds themselves in need of Gru’s help after a new, unseen villain emerges. A villain who turns cuddly creatures into big, purple killing machines for some reason.
The head of the league, voiced by Steve Coogan, assigns the mission to Lucy and a reluctant Gru and tells them that the serum used for this mysterious villain’s experiments has been traced to The Paradise Shopping Mall. There the two of them start looking for suspects, one of which is the Mexican taco restaurant owner Eduardo Perez (Benjamin Bratt), whom Gru believes to be the incomprehensibly manly El Macho, a lost and absolutely hilarious supervillain known for his desire to be as macho as possible, which is why the film contains a scene of him diving into an active volcano riding shark wrapped in explosives. Yes, that actually happens! Needless to say, El Macho is one of my favourite things in the film.
During the course of the film, a romance begins to blossom between Lucy and Gru, as well as between Margo and what’s presumably her first boy crush. And while this is going on, Gru’s small, yellow, comedic little henchmen, the Minions, are disappearing one by one, adding yet another layer of mystery to the whole thing. The Minions provide some of the hardest laughs in the film, largely due to the fact that they are put in more memorable and hysterical slapstick scenarios this time around than in the first film. I love these guys. I love the jokes around them, I love their weird little language and I love the way they interract with one another. I just hope the planned spin-off film doesn’t run these guys into the ground.
The humour in this film is smart and brilliantly thought out, as is the way they succesfully write pay-offs to pretty much every setup, to the point where they even manage to do that to a fart joke, which is not something you see everyday. The thing about many modern comedians is that they mistakenly believe that farts are funny all by themselves, not realizing that the humour is helped by what goes on around the joke and how the characters react. This movie manages to turn a fart joke into a plot point! Call it a “Chekov’s Fart Gun” if you will. That’s pretty impressive.
And of course, the animation looks splendid, as well as actually – gasp! – sometimes looking better thanks to being 3D. It doesn’t occur too often, but there are some scenes in the film that benefit from being in 3D and they look surprisingly good. Also, keep an eye out on YouTube for a video in which Steve Carell explains how the animation is made, in a child-friendly but still very spot-on and informative way. Unlike most non-animation people in Hollywood, this guy actually seems to know what he’s talking about when bringing up CGI.
One of the complaint some might have on Despicable Me 2 is that it may be a bit too childish at times, but let’s face it, not only is it geared primarily at kids, but in a film that focuses a great deal on a loving father that tries his hardest to pander to his own young daughters, a fair share of childishness is pretty much a must. It makes the scenes with Gru and the girls all the more heartwarming. A similar amount of heart can be found in the scenes between Gru and the awkward Lucy.
Now, I did find Lucy to be a little bit annoying at times and I did think that they got out of the climax a little too easily, but these are just nitpicks on what’s otherwise a very enjoyable movie. I enjoyed the fast animation, I liked the timing of the comedy, I loved the characters, I laughed at all the brilliantly exaggerated character designs, I admired the writing and, thanks to actually getting to see the original English dub of the movie, I got to enjoy the voice-work at its fullest, which is some great voice-work. I give this film a thumbs-up and urge you to take your kids to see this someday. I’m sure there’s stuff in it that even you will like.