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Thursday, July 11, 2013 03:40 pm

Likable characters, inventive visuals buoy Despicable 2

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud’s Despicable Me 2 is that it seems far less ambitious than its predecessor. Sporting little in the way of character development as well as a fairly standard plot, the film flirts with being a throwaway exercise throughout. With a running time of 98 minutes, my 8-year-old assistant Grant seemed to think the film was too short. Though he couldn’t put it into words, I think he sensed how slight of an affair this is. However, that did not prevent either of us from having a good time. The unique world and characters rendered in the film still proved engaging and funny enough to leave us satisfied.

Would be moon thief Gru (voice by Steve Carell) has given up being a super villain and has taken to being an adoptive father like a duck to water. He dotes on his three young charges – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) – and is developing his own line of gourmet jellies and jams. However, when he’s approached by the Anti-Villain League to help track down the culprit who has stolen an experimental serum that turns innocent creatures into bloodthirsty killers, he reluctantly enters the world of secret espionage. (I mean, who’s he kidding – once you’ve stolen the moon, there’s no way making fruit preserves could ever be enough.)

With the knowledge that his prey has set up shop at a local mall, Gru sets up a cupcake shop and is given a partner in the person of Agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig) to help him. Their surveillance methods take up a good chunk of the film. They stumble through watching one perspective bad guy after another. Ultimately, they focus on Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt) the owner of a Mexican restaurant whose manner triggers something in Gru’s memory that he can’t shake.

As I say, the story is nothing special but what makes the film worthwhile are the appealing characters, the unique situations Coffin and Renaud dream up for them and their distinctive visual style. Gru is quite appealing and Carell’s efforts play a large part in this. His over-the-top delivery in a faux Eastern European accent casts the character in a buffoonish light yet we know he has a heart of gold that makes us sympathize with him when his plans go awry. The veteran is ably supported by inspired work by Wiig and especially Bratt who brings an outsized flair to Eduardo that is hilarious.

While the plot is a standard affair, many of the film’s set pieces are inspired. Of note is a scene that finds a villain riding a rocket while strapped to a shark which is headed to an active volcano (you have to see it to believe it), a rousing climax that simultaneously lampoons action films while delivering thrills of its own, and an odd turn of affairs for a great number of minions that yields a great many laughs. These moments, as well as the numerous visual gags found in the meticulously rendered backgrounds, speak to the directors’ rich vision, which helps save Despicable 2 from being just another standard animated film.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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