July 3, 2013



DESPICABLE ME 2:  Watch It At Home – Good-Hearted If Unexciting Sequel For the Kids

Despicable Me was far from the most ambitious or striking animated feature of the last few years, but it was definitely cute.  It told the story of supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), a Scrooge type with an unplaceable (Middle European?) accent, whose plot to steal the moon was foiled when he fell for the adorable orphans Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier).  Oh, and he had minions!  Bumbling yellow assistants (descendants of Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas and the claw-game aliens in Toy Story) with various permutations of eyeballs who spoke a language even less comprehensible than Gru’s and served as excellent unkillable fodder for all kinds of sight gags.  By the movie’s end, the moon was back in place, Gru had adopted the girls and all was right with the world.  From Universal’s point of view, the ending was even happier, as Despicable, which cost a relatively low-budget $70M to produce (Pixar and DreamWorks routinely spend double that and more on their projects), hauled in $543M worldwide.

That meant, of course, the word that sends pure ecstasy coursing through the veins of studio executives everywhere:  franchise!  And so we have DESPICABLE ME 2, a harmless if inessential sequel.  When we re-join Gru, he’s an entirely reformed daddy, happy to blow up balloons instead of planets and, in a pinch, play the fairy princess at a birthday party, his evil ingenuity devoted to bottling (with the help of henchman Dr. Nefario, voiced again by Russell Brand) some very bad jellies and jams.  He’s a little bit of a bore, in fact, so it’s a relief when he’s approached by Anti-Villainy League agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) with a mission:  to find the possessor of a serum that can turn the most kindly creature into a ravenous monster, a serum that for some reason is located at the local shopping mall.  Although there are a few alternate suspects, it’s quickly obvious that the serum belongs to Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), who runs the mall’s salsa restaurant when he’s not trying to destroy the world.  Even worse than the evil serum, from Gru’s point of view, is that Margo has her first crush on a boy, who happens to be Eduardo’s suave son Antonio (Moises Arias), a development that sends Gru into full sitcom-dad mode.

Despicable 2 has nothing to compare with the emotional through-line of Gru’s redemption as a dad in the first movie.  Instead, it takes a jaunt into rom-com territory, as Gru tries to avoid being fixed up by a neighbor and by the girls, all the time failing to see the true love (Gru love?) under his impressive nose.  Disappointingly, there’s not much vocal spark between Carell and Wiig–you’d think Kristen Wiig would be the world’s best animation star, since most of her SNL characters were as close to cartoons as live-action allows, but Lucy is a merely straightforward character, and writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (who also wrote the first movie) haven’t taken much advantage of Wiig’s crazy talents.  It’s Bratt, grabbing hold with both cartoon hands of the kind of broad comedy he never gets to do in real life (the role was originally cast with Al Pacino, but things didn’t work out) who practically steals the movie from Carell and Wiig entirely.

There’s plenty of mild, pleasant fun in Despicable 2, but not much that’s inspired.  Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, back for an encore, keep things moving along with a comfortable visual style (Gru’s suburbia looks a whole lot like the one in The Lorax, also co-directed by Renaud) and a peppy pace.  Tailoring the movie to their young audience, they don’t worry too much about the plot (the one genuinely promising twist has the minions being given the evil serum, but it’s resolved all too easily), and add little in the way of touches for adults in the crowd.  It’s a formula that’s been working for them, and there’s little doubt it’ll score again.

We’re just at the beginning of our journey with Gru & Co–next up is a minions spin-off, and who knows what television and alternate media plans NBCUniversal has for the group.  So far, at least, they’re a reasonably fun group to have around.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."