Despicable Me proved to be something of a pleasant surprise when it arrived in cinemas back in 2010. Focusing on the exploits of a criminal mastermind intent on stealing the moon, it made a star out of Steve Carell’s grumpy Gru and foisted the little yellow Minions into the pop culture consciousness.
Big box office returns followed and this month sees the release of sequel Despicable Me 2.
This time around Gru, profoundly changed since adopting Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), is adjusting to parenthood but finding himself pining for female company. Enter Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent for the Anti-Villain League whose kookiness quickly brings her to the attention of Gru.
The arrival of a new villain dubbed ‘El Macho’ (Benjamin Bratt) draws them together, with Lucy using Gru’s villainous expertise to foil the dastardly new foe.
This sequel perhaps doesn’t recapture that feeling of freshness and originality of its predecessor, but there’s still an abundance of wit and humour on show to keep this animation ticking over nicely.
Returning directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud keep up the visual innovation too, pulling together some neatly executed set pieces, the most notable being an eye-catching shot of El Macho and a shark strapped to a rocket as it hurtles at high speed into a volcano. It’s so good they even play this scene out twice!
Russell Brand’s Dr Nefario takes a backseat this time around, leaving more to do for the lovable Minions – as characters they’re perfect to drop into a movie to raise a smile and get a laugh (doing a similar job to Ice Age’s Scrat). They accompany Despicable Me 2’s closing credits, an obvious tee-up for their own movie.
Unlike many animated films that see Hollywood A-listers phone in voice performances, the cast here are uniformly excellent. We already know Carell’s strength from last time around, but he’s matched by Wiig’s sweet-natured klutz Lucy and some devilish intonations from Bratt (a last-minute replacement for Al Pacino following the now-standard “creative differences”). Steve Coogan is also a new addition to the cast, giving good British stiff upper lip as head of the AVL Silas Ramsbottom.
If there’s one thing missing from this follow-up it’s the sense of development for Gru. Previously his redemptive journey was clear, yet here the character progression doesn’t carry quite the same weight. That said, glimpses back to Gru’s childhood trauma lend this some much-needed pathos in between the slapstick humour.
Despicable Me 2 is a beautifully constructed tale packed with humour and heart in equal measures.
By Ruth Walker