Despicable Me 2 Review: Romancing the Minions
There could not have been a better place to see Despicable Me 2 than at a sneak preview in the Salle des Haras at the Annecy International Animation Festival. A large part of the movie was made at the French animation studio Illumination MacGuff, so the French fan base was out en force in the small alpine town of Annecy, host to the oldest and most prestigious animation festival in the world. Present to introduce the film were Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and Illumination’s Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy, who revealed that this would be the first time they had seen the film with an audience.
And the audience did not disappoint. Paper airplanes (an Annecy tradition) flew towards the stage as the lights dimmed, wild applause greeted the opening credits, and at the end of the evening a standing ovation honored the directors, producers and crew, many of whom were present.
So with that sort of enthusiasm it is hard to step back and objectively analyze the merits of the movie itself. Unfortunately, the return of Gru and his minions leaves much to be desired as far as the story is concerned and therefore comes across as a sequel meant to capitalize on a pre-established fan-base and merchandise sales.
The story begins soon after the end of the first with the not-so-villainous Gru making arrangements for pink cupcakes and a fairy princess birthday party for Agnes. He is surrounded by an entourage of suburban moms who seem to have nothing better to do than meddle with his love life. Even before our female protagonist is introduced we know the plot is going to center around Gru getting a girlfriend. Sure enough, we meet Lucy, a secret agent for the Anti-Villain League, who tries to recruit the domicile Gru away from his jelly-making business and back into the world of fancy gadgets and cool cars.
Oh, and they need to save the world from an unknown villain has stolen the PX41 serum, which can turn the sweetest cuddly creature into a raging purple monster. Despite this decidedly despicable act, this mysterious villain and the PX41 serum are given so little attention the threat against the world as we know it seems more of a subplot than the driving motivation of the film.
Gru and Lucy’s relationship develops in a predictable manner with some refreshing comic relief involving a mad chicken and a blind date. As most of the movie posters suggest, Gru and his minions are the stars. Agnes, Edith and Margo have not grown in stature or personality since the first movie and have a less prominent role in the action this time around. The writers drop in a few obvious plot devices and relationship cliches to propel the characters towards the climax, which doesn’t hold a candle to Gru’s first villainous feat of stealing the moon.
To make up for the mundane storyline the animation is excellent, conveying character and humor with both force and delicacy. And despite its predictability, it really is a funny film. Thanks to Steve Carell’s excellent voice acting, Gru’s accented sarcasm remains sharp. Lucy, his new partner in anti-crime (voiced by Kristen Wiig), endears us with her goofy innocence. The action-based comedy channels the Looney Tunes style of insanity that sweeps us up with exaggerated sound effects, slapstick hilarity and a healthy dose of cross-dressing. The minions are in rare form, permeating nearly every scene with some sort of non-sequitur humor. The best 3D effects are actually during the end credits, though the use of 3D is well integrated and enjoyable throughout the film.
Despicable Me 2 was one of my favorite screenings during the entire week at Annecy, not because I enjoyed the movie all that much, but because it taught me that the energy of a crowd is an experience in itself. No wonder the minions have so much fun all the time.
In summary, this was a funny film with excellent animation. If you have some little minions of your own, or happen to love Gru and his sidekicks, you will probably enjoy watching Despicable Me 2 in the theater. However, if you want an engaging and memorable story, I suggest you look elsewhere among the summer blockbuster lineup.
Despicable Me 2 opens in theaters on July 3, 2013.
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