A version of this review originally appeared in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 11, 2013.
In the first “Despicable Me,” the pointy-nosed super villain Gru was forced to choose between adopting three of the cutest orphans ever depicted on-screen, or become the world’s greatest villain by pulling off a heist so audacious that it would give Danny Ocean a few minutes pause to consider retirement.
In that movie, the stakes were high. Attempting to steal the moon will almost always put a few lives at risk, as well as reputations. If Gru’s problems in the sequel aren’t as simultaneously shallow and grave as they once were, they are at least more complicated, resulting in a movie not as funny as its predecessor, but just as fun and adorable.
“Despicable Me 2” depicts Gru divorced from villainy and embracing fatherhood, doing whatever it takes to please his adopted daughters, such as dressing up as a fairy princess for little Agnes’ birthday party, or helping her rehearse her part for a Mother’s Day show.
“One more time,” Gru tells Agnes after she gives an uninspired performance, “but a teensy bit less like a zombie, okay?”
Agnes’ singing isn’t the only thing off about this scene. Why is she preparing for a Mother’s Day show when she doesn’t even have a mom?
Enter Lucy Wilde, a young, overly ambitious agent of the AVL (Anti-Villain League) who has come to recruit Gru to help the league track down the person responsible for the disappearance of a secret laboratory once stationed somewhere near the Arctic Circle.
Everyone seems to be smitten with Lucy, especially Agnes, who immediately recognizes her motherly potential, even if Gru is reluctant to admit his affections for her, citing the allure of “cool cars, gadgets, and weapons,” as his reasons for assisting the AVL.
If the relationship between Gru and Lucy is the heart of “Despicable Me 2,” then its soul is Agnes, Edith, and Margo’s need for a mother figure, and to see Gru become a happy man. In one funny scene, the girls try to set him up with someone through an online-dating service.
Adding to the movie’s hilarity is the franchise’s claim to fame: Minions, those little yellow, tic-tac-shaped creatures that embody pure giddiness and irreverence. Without them, the “Despicable Me” franchise would have been dead on arrival.
In “Despicable Me 2,” the Minions are not only central to the humor, but to the plot as well, and are responsible for the movie’s overall sense of intrigue and mystery. In one scene, two minions investigate a suspicious noise outside only to be abducted alien-style by a UFO.
As minions begin to disappear, the plot thickens. There are red herrings, underwater lairs, active volcanoes, sinister plots, and a scene in a wig shop so inappropriate it will make adults and children laugh for completely different reasons.
In the end, “Despicable Me 2” is a worthy sequel because it deftly combines slapstick humor for children with subtle nods to the adult audience, all in the effort of telling an endearing story about an overprotective father who wants nothing more than to give his daughters the childhood he never had.
3 stars out of 4.