Can you call a movie “Despicable Me 2” when the “me” isn’t a bit despicable? Deft, daft inventor Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) may have been naughty in the 2010 original, when he stole and shrank the moon – before restoring it, of course – but his adoption of three smart little girls in that story began his conversion to good-guy status.
When we see him in this sequel, he’s concocting a line of jams and jellies in his basement. Soon, agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League recruits him to battle an unidentified threat who has taken up residence in a local mall. Gru soon identifies the evildoer as El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), owner of a Mexican restaurant and once the craziest malefactor of all.
Many animated films function on a metaphoric level as well as a literal one. Most of them have a gentle moral about kindness, tolerance or personal growth.
Not “Despicable 2.” Gru starts and ends as an attentive dad. El Macho’s not conflicted, just crazy: He wants to kidnap Gru’s yellow minions and turn them into purple creatures that gobble metal and can’t be stopped. The girls need a mom, and the fast-talking but friendly Lucy makes the obvious candidate.
Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, all of whom worked on the first film, have nothing on their minds but diversion. They accomplish this with broad character strokes, a crackling pace, sparkling colors and 3-D technology that rivals the best I know. (Wait through the credits, and watch kids in the audience reach without thinking for the bubbles that float “off” the screen and “over” the audience.)
You may miss Gru’s mom, who has been dropped from the narrative, and myopic Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), who has been reduced to a crucial cameo.
You may wonder what’s up with El Macho, who’s a generic version of a would-be world-dominator. (His guard chicken, Pollito, has as much personality as he does.) Yet this isn’t the kind of film where you can reasonably look for motivation or be put off by lack of it.
Carell delivers his whole performance in cuddly mode, even when exasperated. Wiig, who appeared in the first one as the domineering head of Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls, now plays a scatter-brained sweetie. The girls (led by Miranda Cosgrove as Margo) remain endearing. Even Bratt’s zesty El Macho barks threats with no real nastiness in his voice. (Al Pacino quit this role months into the process because of “creative differences.” I wonder what movie he thought he was making.)
The presence of two minions and the absence of Gru on the “DM2” poster imply this franchise will keep getting simpler. The little yellow guys will star in the next outing, the 2014 “Minions,” which seems to be another stop-the-supervillain-from-ruling-the-world piece. But for now, the franchise has enough zip and humor to be worthwhile.