In the original “Despicable Me,” criminal mastermind Gru wants to steal the moon. In “Despicable Me 2,” he wants to get a date.
Not quite the same thing. At all.
Make no mistake. The sequel to 2010’s worldwide half-billion-dollar-grossing animated blockbuster is fun. It’s cheerful. It’s lollipop colorful. Best of all, it features lots of minion mischief, which guarantees plenty of laughs. But what it doesn’t have is an edge.
The first picture has edges everywhere, from a snappish pet something-or-other with a big-fanged underbite to a startling scene involving an iron maiden, a little girl and a juice box.
The original is truly an original in the way it cleverly mixes menace with playfulness — An iron maiden and a little girl: really? But it’s funny. Really! — and keeps coming at you from surprising directions. The Gru of the first movie is a guy who makes a balloon animal to comfort a crying little kid and then — Pow! — pops it with a pin in the tyke’s shocked face. Despicable!
But when he cynically adopts three little orphaned sisters as part of his complicated moon-stealing scheme, he falls under their spell, mutates into a good dad, and gets out of the bad-guy game. So, where do we go from there?
That half-billion-buck worldwide gross pointed the way. Sequel! Unfortunately, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, all returning for the second round, ditched boldness and fell into a cautious protect-the-franchise mind-set. There would be no nasty balloon-popping this time around.
In “2,” good-dad Gru (voiced again with a Transylvanian accent by Steve Carell) is a bit of a bore, reduced to dressing up as a blond-wigged fairy godmother for his adorable youngest daughter’s theme party, and reduced, too, to manufacturing inedible jellies rather than a moon rocket in his vast underground lab. Until along comes a tart-tongued, taser-wielding woman named Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) who recruits Gru into a secret anti-villain organization. The idea is for him to use his bad-guy skills to catch a new bad guy. The problem here is that the identity of the bad guy is kept kind of a secret for a long time.
Rather than definitively revealing the baddie and the middling nature of his evil schemes right away, the picture concentrates on Gru’s overprotective efforts to prevent eldest daughter Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove) from going all boy crazy. At the same time, Mr. Misanthrope is under pressure from his girls and eventually even Agent Lucy herself to jump into the dating pool and find someone to be a mother to his girls.
Thankfully, the minions, those gibberish-spouting, Twinkie-shaped mischief-makers, are given plenty of screen time to wreak havoc and reap laughs. Kids will love it. Adults will find it tolerable.
Despicable Me 2
* * *
Cast: The voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove and Benjamin Bratt.
Directors: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
Running time: 1:38
Rated: PG; rude humor, mild action