I should state up-front that I haven’t seen Despicable Me (2010), the original film of which this is a sequel. I started this blog earlier this year because I had felt for some years that my cinema attendance was slacking off and I missed the enjoyment of the silver screen. I only saw 28 films in the cinema in 2010, and needless to say amongst those few films I didn’t find much space for animated films aimed at children.
That said, this does not of course mean that childrens’ films need lack complexity or characterisation or be totally bereft of interest for adults — some, such as Wreck-It Ralph (2012), even seem predicated on a nostalgic familiarity with the recent past that kids just wouldn’t have. I can’t speak to how well this or any animated film goes down for kids because I don’t tend to hang out with them (and the ones that my friends do have are a bit young to even be watching movies, let alone to be telling me about them over a pint in the pub), but for my part, Despicable Me 2 was a good solid piece of fun candy-coloured entertainment.
The plot won’t win awards but then you hardly expect it to: an evil mastermind plots to take over the world and our protagonist Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) must team up with the Anti-Villain League to stop him. The twist is that Gru is a reformed super-villain himself (I understand his own evil exploits were dealt with in the first film), which is a nice gentle touch suggesting that it is possible (desirable, even) that those who have gone wrong earlier in life deserve a chance at redemption. Still, part of the joke is that even if he is single-handedly raising three cute (adopted) daughters in leafy suburbia, he still glowers like a villain, creeping around hunchbacked and glabrous, while his home is a domineering gothic pile on an otherwise perkily conformist terraced street. So when the AVL pay him a visit, he’s torn between helping them to fight crime and his own former villainy which he clearly misses. One also gets the sense that, with his idiosyncratic individuality, he rather reviles his prospective new workplace, for the AVL have tracked down the fiendish mastermind to a cavernous mall (looking to London viewers such as myself like The O2 in the former Millennium Dome, though American viewers probably have far more points of comparison).
The deciding factor in the end is an inevitable love interest, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig and coming across like Alison Brie’s character in TV’s Community). The scenes of dating and burgeoning love are of course played for comedy — perhaps a little too broad and caricatured in the case of Gru’s disastrous date with another woman — but as always descend into trite sentimentality by the denouement, the nadir (or heartbreaking climax, depending on your point of view) being a heartfelt speech by Gru’s youngest daughter about her new-found mother love. Still, this never overwhelms or unduly bogs down the film’s jaunty tone, and there’s a fine range of guest voices, all playing memorably cartoonish characters (rather than thinly-disguised versions of themselves, which so many animated movies seem to do these days, whereby even the animated characters are made to look like the person voicing them).
Yet the stand-out pleasure of the film — surely for kids and even for me — are the many Minions, plump little yellow creatures that dominate the film’s advertising (and no doubt custom-designed to become toys), who are worker creatures, not unlike the Oompa Loompas or the Doozers in Fraggle Rock. Like the Sims, the Minions have their own language voiced sotto voce while they’re bumbling around, apparently a composite of various European languages (it’s interesting and possibly not unrelated that one of the directors as well as a chunk of the animators are French). Indeed many of the words can be easily understood — they have a cute little snigger about one character’s name ending in “bottom” which is as funny as it is simplistic (very), and they can be easily distracted by ice-cream (“gelato”). Their antics provide a welcome distraction (for kids as much as cynical adults such as myself) when the ‘human’ stories head towards the clichéd and cloying.
While it’s easy to instinctively rail against the kinds of franchises that dominate modern multiplex entertainment and home video sales, Despicable Me 2 is a pleasant and diverting spectacle. It uses some nice characterisation and a fairly positive message in the noble service of keeping amused both kids and adults alike.
Directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin; Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio; Starring Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig; Length 98 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Thursday 8 August 2013.