July 2, 2013
As satisfaction at the movies goes, nothing makes Cinema Siren happier than a really great animated feature. After some mediocre offerings earlier in the year, finally this holiday weekend something really great arrives, and just in time for families looking for cinematic fun. The quirky heart of the original is kept intact, but in Despicable Me 2, new elements blend with the zest of the first to make it a great time at your local theater.
In DM2, we find formerly villainous mastermind Gru settling in and using his best qualities to be a quirky fun-loving adoptive dad to the three little ones, Margo, Agnes and Edith; both he and the audience fell for them in the original. Instead of attempting to rule the world or destroy civilization, he has put his minions and an increasingly dissatisfied Dr Nefario to work developing a brand of jams and jellies.
His girls have started talking about him “getting out there,” and his neighbor is playing matchmaker with him and various lonely hearts, who remind him of his painful lackluster history as a reject and girl-repellent. Enter some nefarious villain who is turning various creatures into indestructible killing machines. For the AVL (the Anti-Villain League), this simply won’t do, and they send enthusiastic agent Lucy Wilde to recruit Gru for their mission to track down and stop whoever is responsible.
There are many aspects of Despicable Me 2 that make it enjoyable for both adults and children. The filmmakers know they have a good thing in the minions, and they figure more prominently in the plot and the film’s humor, with sight gags and recurring jokes seamlessly woven into and enhancing the story.
The addition of several new characters also adds a lot to make the sequel both fun and its own cinematic animal, to be enjoyed for its own sake. Both potential villain Eduardo and his son, Antonio, a Latin-lover in training who woos Margo, are great inventions with tons of nuanced quirks, like Antonio’s studied use of his thick shock of hair. That Benjamin Bratt took over voicing Eduardo shortly before release from Al Pacino, who left the production over creative differences about the character’s representation, voicing over the finished film, makes his zesty all-in portrayal far more impressive.
Kristen Wiig plays Lucy with great comic timing and feminine verve, bringing a deeper sweetness to the all business exterior of the geeky wanna-be spy. Lucy is a well-meaning, flamboyant, bluntly enthusiastic yet lovable blabbermouth, who is constantly striving to be great at her job, and becomes increasingly enamored with Gru.
Here is where full disclosure on the part of Cinema Siren is required…Several times during or after the screening, fellow critics jokingly mentioned their surprise that I was featured in the co-starring role. I had been watching and appreciating Lucy’s character for a full half-hour, finding her very funny and entertaining, before I realized I was more or less watching my cartoon doppelganger. (Having now experienced that firsthand, I can now say everyone should have one.)
Obviously when I say I found her highly entertaining and one of the best aspects of the new movie, you potential audience members can fairly assume I have both a sizable ego and an appreciation for strong nontraditional female roles both in live action and animation. In any case she and Gru play off each other beautifully and fans of his will root and hope for the two of them not only getting together, but thwarting evil and building a bigger family with his girls.
Family is a big theme in this, as it was in the first film, and what makes the evil-spoiling plot mesh so well with scenes of Gru’s interactions with his kids, the minions, Dr. Nefario and Lucy, is family is always in the forefront in his mind and in his decisions. There are several poignant scenes that could seem heavy-handed but work more than they should due to Carell’s consummate skill as a voice actor, and the way his interactions with the other characters are skillfully written in the great script by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
It is well known that part of the business model at Illumination, the production company responsible for this wildly popular franchise, is a tight budget. Despicable Me came in at around $70 million, and this sequel cost only $76 million. These are impressive numbers compared to Pixar, which, as a point of comparison, spent $180 million on Wall-E and $200 million on Toy Story 3.
Illumination has created such a thoroughly delightful and charming addition to the world of animation with the budget-conscious Despicable Me 2. That’s a great example for other studios to follow. It could help keep the genre fresh and exciting, utilizing inventive, cost-saving production techniques and employing forward thinking animators for years to come, which is great news for lovers of feature length cartoons.
This screening I brought with me a huge fan of the original, complete with T-shirt, movie soundtrack in the car on the way there and a stuffed Minion riding shotgun with us. He loved Despicable Me 2 even more than the first one. By bringing more “movie minions” into the fandom fold, production company Illumination Entertainment can likely look forward to another huge hit with their upcoming 2014 Minions about the yellow henchmen, pre-Gru.
If Illumination Entertainment continues their streak of inventive scripting and well-developed characterizations, there’s nothing but more success in their future.