WASHINGTON, July 6, 2013 – Good news for fans of 2010’s computer-animated comedy hit film “Despicable Me.” Its Universal Studios sequel first invaded theaters this mid-holiday week and promptly crushed Disney’s big budget, Johnny Depp-dominated “The Lone Ranger” to smithereens at the box office. And why not? Families and kids alike loved the original “Despicable.” So why not return for the follow-up for more of the same?
Actually, “Despicable Me 2” is not nearly as inventive as the original film. It’s flattened out somewhat by a contrived and not-very-convincing love story which has our lovelorn and not-quite-super-villainous hero Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) flip out over the inexperienced spy Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) who’s been sent to retrieve him for an assignment from her employer, the super-secret Anti-Villain League (AVL).
The budding love interest that weaves through this film is probably the weakest element in a relatively conventional plot that has a rival super-villain, El Macho (Benjamin Bratt, replacing Al Pacino who left the film due to “creative differences”), scheming to conquer the world. That’s an ambition that has become relatively standard these days in the hyperactive world of super-villainy.
“Despicable 2” has a much softer tone than the original, mainly because the three young girls Gru adopted in the earlier film have turned him into a more cuddly daddy version of his former self. As young girls of a certain age might say these days, as they wrinkle up their noses: EEEEee-oooh! Or maybe they’ll like this kinder, gentler Gru. Who knows?
At any rate, so as far as the comedic element of this film is concerned, it’s up to Gru’s legion of Minions—those wacky, yellow, bespectacled, ADD-afflicted, fireplug-like little creatures—to keep this film going.
Fortunately, for both the film and “Despicable’s” avid fans, the Minions don’t disappoint. The afternoon we attended the film, the theater tended to be mostly quiet and respectful until the Minions started up with their ridiculous antics. That kicked the legion of kids in attendance into full participatory high gear.
Speaking in an international gibberish that reminded us old-timers of Sid Caesar’s fractured German—except that it was primarily mangled French, given that this film, like the first, is the work of a French animation studio—the Minions give you not-too-subtle hints as to what inspires their childish nonsense. But the kids in the audience know perfectly well what they’re up to, mightily appreciating the Minions’ fondness for snarky flatulence jokes and weapons as well as their wondrous mimicking of Euro-style ambulance sirens: BEE-doh, BEE-doh, BEE-doh…
As for the latter bit, the kids picked up the refrain almost in unison the day we attended, and kept it going until their parents were able to shush them up. (We can imagine what dominated family dinner table discussions later that day as the kiddies reprised their favorite scene.)
Ultimately, it’s silly nonsense like this that the really love, though, so it’s likely that the Minions, and not this film’s fairly lame plot, will drive ticket sales in coming weeks. Whatever works.
Need an example? Check out the following trailer, which starts out with the mushy stuff and ends up with what kids really want to see:
About the only thing kids will learn from the current “Despicable” film is that rude noises emanating from individuals’ backsides are both still really funny.
That said, although “Despicable Me 2” is not quite as squeaky-clean as Disney-Pixar’s recent, successful “Monsters University,” it shares with the latter animated feature the sheer joy of silliness, adult juvenile behavior, and the occasional scary moment leavened by a cautious yet genuine endorsement of traditional family values. That’s the formula that keeps old-time family entertainments like these ahead of many a big-budget blockbuster that ultimately fails to catch on at the box office.
Meanwhile, surprise! The producers are already at work on another sequel that stars the Minions themselves. It’s due out for a Thanksgiving/Christmas 2014 release. Look for loads of Minion products in toy stores everywhere next fall. BEE-doh, BEE-doh, BEE-doh, BEE-doh….
Rating: ** ½ (Two and one-half stars out of four.)
Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.
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