Is there more to the story of “Despicable Me” after Gru (Steve Carell) isn’t despicable anymore? The original, with Gru and Vector (Jason Segal) as warring super-villains, was one of the best animated films and one of the best family movies of the past several years. The characters, brilliantly designed by illustration great Carter Goodrich, were a magnificent contrast, Gru all musty gothic and Victorian, with heavy carved wood and hammered metal and Vector all sleek and mid-century Creamsicle colors. The happy ending had Gru’s heart warming to three adorable orphan girls and saving the day.
With all of that resolved, this movie never quite reaches the emotional resonance of the first, and this edition’s villain (I will try not to give away any surprises that occur after the first third of the film) is not as interesting as Vector, visually or in terms of plot or character.
But it is still wonderfully imaginative and fun, with a masterful use of 3D and breathtaking, precision-timed, action sequences that are both exciting and hilarious. And there are minions.
The adorable yellow creatures who appear to be made from marshmallow peeps and serve as Gru’s version of ooompa-loompas are even more effective scene-stealers than they were in the first outing, whether wearing a fetching maid uniform, reacting to the taste of a very bad batch of jelly, or suffering the effects of a transforming serum called PX41. Watch the end credits — they appear to be poised to take over the next chapter.
There are some new characters in this sequel, too, most delightfully Lucy, an agent for the Anti-Villain League who recruits Gru to help her save the world. She is charmingly voiced by Kristin Wiig (a different accent and a different character from the orphanage director she played in the first movie), and deliciously drawn, with Lucille Ball-red hair and a fearless but charmingly dorky personality. A local mom keeps trying to fix Gru up with her single friends and the girls want him to try a computer matchmaker. But it is Lucy who makes him consider for the first time getting over the childhood trauma that made him decide that romance was beyond his ability. Lucy is adorkable, both coltish and rubber-limbed, cheerily explaining to Gru that he should not announce his weapon until after he uses it, and then demonstrating by singing out “lipstick taser!” as he seizes and jerks on the ground.
Meanwhile, there is a new super-villain to track down. The Anti-Villain League has traced him or her to the local mall (witty and imaginatively conceived). So Gru and Lucy go undercover with a cupcake shop called Bake My Day and try to figure out which of the local merchants has the PX41. This is much more exciting than trying to make an honest living manufacturing jams and jellies, especially after the departure of his long-time aide, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), who leaves for evil-er pastures.
In the midst of all this, Gru still has his parental responsibilities, including some worries over oldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), who has spotted a cute boy named Antonio (“Kings of Summer’s” Moises Arias), who has Beiberific hair and all the charm of a future Latin lover.
A chase scene that has the minions trying to protect Gru is one of the best action sequences of the year and Gru’s entry into the super-villain’s lair is cleverly designed. It is fun to see Gru try to manage a 6-year-old’s birthday party (like Steve Martin in “Parenthood,” he has to step in as the entertainment) while redefining himself as a man the girls can trust and respect. It isn’t the villain who’s his match this time, it’s his partner in non-crime. While not as liberatingly refreshing as the original, it is still a blast and one of the best family films of the year.
Parents should know that this film has several instances of potty humor and some violence and peril (mostly comic but with weapons and drug-induced personality transformations). There’s a brief shot of a bare minion tush and a joke about being drunk.
Family discussion: Why was it hard for Gru to tell Lucy how he felt? What “despicable” qualities did Gru have that helped him be a better good guy?
If you like this, try: “Despicable Me” and “Megamind”