The first Despicable Me was the first feature of new studio Illumination Entertainment and it turned out to be a surprise success. It was definitely not a high-brow masterpiece, and your mileage may vary, but I (and many other people) liked it quite a lot. The supervillain Gru, and especially his army of yellow minions (a stroke of genius from the film’s designers that felt, probably, like God’s gift to the marketing team), were very funny, and the film moved away from the Pixar/Dreamworks style of CGI animation to bring in more cartoonish designs, exaggerated movement and slapstick gags in a manner more similar to French productions -the animation team is French, and director Pierre Coffin was trained at the famous Gobelins school in Paris. On top of it, Gru’s final transformation into a single father of three adopted little girls sent a surprisingly unconventional message (for a mainstream film), supporting the idea that non-traditional families can be just as happy and well-adjusted as the usual mother+father+biological kids arrangement.
The sequel, Despicable Me 2, is made by the same team, and many of the ingredients from the first film are still here. The film looks lovely, and the slapstick wackiness and cartoonish designs are still here. The minions are also still here, and continue to be hilarious (I would say that pretty much all of the laughs of this sequel come from those little yellow pests). Also present: a fun soundtrack from Pharrell Williams. Now, if only someone had remembered to write a plot.
OK, that’s not entirely fair: there is a semblance of a plot involving a super-destructive serum that has been stolen by a mysterious villain, and a league of spies that require Gru’s help as a reformed villain to solve the mystery- and also provide him with Lucy, a work partner and eventual love interest voiced by comedian Kristen Wiig. But it’s just so…watered down, compared to the shenanigans of the first film (stealing the moon!), and most of it takes place in a mall, literally the most boring setting one could think of (unless they’re George Romero, which the Despicable Me team definitely aren’t). Initially, Gru brought a lot of humor to the story through his bluntness, complete lack of social skills and relative misanthropy- these personality traits have been toned down into oblivion in the sequel, and Gru is now just a stereotypical Hollywood single dad, panicking over the idea of one of his little girls having a boyfriend, and he is being set up by other people on dates because he just HAS to marry someone and bring home a mother for the kids. Which of course, he does, in the end: it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie unironically end with a wedding, but Despicable Me 2 manages to do just that, and throw every outdated trope at the story in the process, from the damsel in distress to the career choice that requires you to move to a different country and lose your budding romance, but- oh, wait- you can change your mind at the last minute! Where Despicable 1 assured us that family is where the love is, the sequel is now running scared in the other direction, as if to tell us, that, after all, convention is still best and we’re incomplete for as long as we fail to conform to it.
What’s worse, the filmmakers don’t seem too interested either in the main, “mystery” plot at all: there are only 2 suspects, and the script doesn’t even follow the basic mystery etiquette of discounting the most obvious one. Have they never heard of Agatha Christie? Oh well, Despicable Me 2 still makes for a fun enough evening at the movies, but the most interesting aspects of the first film are sadly lost. That being said, the sequence where one of the minions breaks through a wall in a fireman hat, making fireman siren noises, is likely to be stuck in your head for a long time, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on your level of tolerance for the minions. And speaking of them, next year, Illumination will offer us a second sequel, centered on them: let’s hope for the best.