They don’t give out a gold star for trying in the movie business, but I almost wish that they would. Sure, we don’t want to reward every mediocre effort simply because there was effort involved. But when the bulk of the vast movie landscape is made of do-overs and reboots, it’s refreshing when a movie tries something original. The first Despicable Me was the ideal example of this. It wasn’t made in a vacuum, by any means, but there was a distinct sense that what we were experiencing was fresh and not just a Febrezed-over hand-me-down. Despicable Me 2 could have easily been the same movie again; the cuteness would have been all too easy to replicate, what with the minions being handcrafted to entertain kids of all ages. But Despicable Me 2 manages to carve something of a path of its own.
Gru (Steve Carell) isn’t a villain anymore; he’s now the adopted father of the three adorable girls we met in the first film. But apart from his fatherhood, there’s not much direction to his life. Enter Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who introduces Gru to the Anti-Villain League, an international organization that fights villains; hence, anti-villain*. They recruit him to find the villain that stole an entire lab to obtain a serum that transforms harmless critters into blood-thirsty monsters. Gru accepts the mission, but several things complicate the issue: a budding romance with Lucy, his oldest daughter’s discovery of boys, the departure of his business partner/longtime friend Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and, of course, his minions being themselves.
I liked that Despicable Me 2 sought to explore different themes than the first. The original was a story about a man finding out he wasn’t who he thought he was, and his discovery of the joys of childhood and of the kind of love that was meant to be shared with children. The sequel’s story is more about Gru discovering adulthood. There are some great gags revolving around Gru dealing with being single and having to be set up on blind dates, as well as some physical comedy involving Gru trying to sabotage his daughter’s dates. This is where Despicable Me 2 thrives, in the moments that it tries to deal with themes not common to animated movies. The minions are also enjoyable as they bring chaos and unpredictability to the mix. But on a scale of 1 to Toy Story 3, Despicable Me 2 falls somewhere around Shrek the Third. It’s a worthy try, but Despicable Me was effortless. Its sequel can’t quite match that, and there just aren’t any gold stars to make up for it.
*Not the strongest support of my argument that Despicable Me 2 is original, I’m aware.