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'Despicable Me 2' Plays It Safe

While Despicable Me delivered a solid story on top of a touching character arc for its super villain with a heart of gold, the sequel is a more pedestrian affair.

Frilm: Despicable Me 2
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Dana Geier, and Moises Arias
Directors: Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin
Studio: Universal Studios
DV: Despicable Me 2
Distributor: Universal
Release date: 2013-12-10

The problem with a sequel like Despicable Me 2 is that the main character's major internal struggle was thoroughly solved in the first film. In Despicable Me, super villain Gru tried to fill the hole in his heart left by his uncaring mother by pulling off the greatest heist ever: the theft of the moon. When he developed a soft spot for the three girls he fraudulently adopted as part of his plan, he realized some things were more important.

Sure, it's not the greatest character arc ever portrayed in a movie, but it got the job done, and between the storyline and the strong cast of characters, Despicable Me was a success that launched, as they say, a franchise. But where could the filmmakers take Gru in a sequel?

There was no choice but to make his struggle entirely external, so in the follow-up he finds himself recruited out of his happy stay-at-home-dad life by the Anti-Villain League to bust a criminal mastermind. He's paired with secret agent Lucy Wilde, and of course the two begin developing feelings for one another while his three adopted daughters and his host of ever-present minions threaten to muck up the proceedings, both on the job and off.

Despicable Me 2 sneaks in a few homages to the James Bond movies as Lucy and Gru go undercover in a mall, opening a cupcake shop. There's plenty of sneaking around and employing unique gadgets, and Lucy's car can convert into a plane or a sub as needed. After a couple false starts, they finally finger their culprit, but Gru discovers he's an old nemesis. Lucy winds up kidnapped, of course, and the story builds toward a major climax, followed by a predictable coda.

While there's some internal struggle on Gru's part as he wrestles with his feelings for Lucy, none of it feels well-integrated into the story, the way it was in the first film. It's just sort of tacked on, as if the filmmakers felt that Gru needed something personal going on in his life after embracing fatherhood and becoming the parent his mother never was, and, hey, you can't go wrong with a love story, even if it's half-baked. Unlike, say, the Toy Story trilogy, where there's a bittersweet progression of the characters as they struggle with their roles, the Despicable Me series doesn't feel like it has enough of a foundation to support such a long-range arc.

Then again, maybe it doesn't matter much, since Pixar seems to be the only animation studio willing to take chances with new stories and new characters, rather than constantly rehash the old. (Yes, I admit they're slowly straying from that path as they roll out more sequels, but it sounds like they've capped Toy Story at three films, which is an admirable thing to do.) Every other animation studio milks their successful films for all they're worth.

But none of this is to say I hate this movie. It has plenty of funny moments, and I admit I enjoy Gru's obnoxious Minions more than I should. Parents can appreciate the Despicable Me movies as much as their kids do, and that's not a bad thing. In the end, though, it's a sequel that has decided not to reach as high as its predecessor but has still managed to produce an enjoyable experience.

If you're curious how co-directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin approached this film, you'll find out in their commentary track. They lead off by noting that James Bond inspired their approach and then explain the decision-making process behind the film's narrative structure. Like the movie they're discussing, it's not a bad experience.

You'll find the commentary track on both the Blu-ray disc and DVD included in this set. (There's also a digital download which thankfully works with iTunes - I'm not much of an UltraViolet fan.) Both platters also offer the "Gadgets Galore" featurette, which covers the Bond-like gadgets employed by Gru and Lucy, and the "Gru's Girls" interviews with the actresses who play Gru's daughters, Margo, Edith, and Agnes.

On the Blu-ray disc, you'll also find three new mini-movies starring the Minions, as well as a making-of piece that delves into how Illumination Studios functions with offices in LA and Paris, among other things. Then there are, of course, featurettes that cover the Minions as well as their evil versions that appear in the film, along with looks at the new villain El Macho and Gru's transformation into a family man.

Finally, there's a deleted scene that's actually an extended version of a flashback to Gru's childhood. It's not extended by much, though, so I'm not sure why the extra footage was cut out.

In the end, the bonus features are much like the film: good enough, but not great. All of the making-of materials are in the four- or five-minute range, and they all have a marketing sheen on them.


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