Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Love: Despicable Me 2


If you're human and you saw the first Despicable Me film, chances are you found yourself both charmed and pleasantly surprised. If you're ready for that to happen again, Despicable Me 2 doesn't disappoint.  As a sequel, it matches up evenly with the original and provides more of the same while adding just enough to keep things fresh: Gru is still surly, the girls are still cute, the minions don't wear out their welcome. The Despicable franchise seems to have a knack for finding the sweet spot right between candy floss fluff and Saturday morning action heroes; it locates exactly the thing your inner child still loves about that old piece of nostalgia and plays to it, wooing you with all the bells, whistles, and gadgets it has at its disposal. It's a seamless, slick, fast-talking piece of work, a little bit pre-fab, sure, but as an animated comedy?  Hard to argue with the results. 
I've argued in the past that there's a sort of understood difference between what we opt to call an 'animated' work and what we call a 'cartoon'.  It's sort of like the colloquial difference between movies and films: they're the same thing, sure, but one tends to be appraised more for its art than its entertainment. In the illustrated realm, we tend to refer to a Hayao Miyazaki film or a classic Disney feature as animated while cartoons are the Looney Tune pop bits of self-referential ephemera that shoot for laughs, smarts, and distractions more than attending to the aesthetic object. There are very good cartoons and very bad cartoons, of course, and all are still classifiable as art forms in the technical sense. The better cartoons, though, don't pander to an infantile audience. They are complete works in possession of themselves, and their creators understand that fun isn't just for kids or marketing toys.  These works create a madcap world of likable characters, possibilities, and jokes that can be appreciated at levels high and low. They're Animaniacs, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Adventure Time. Despicable Me 2 is pure cartoon, and one of the best kinds: smart, funny, adorable, and expertly paced. It bolts out the gate like the Road Runner and doesn't stop the gags until the credits are nearly complete.
Admittedly, the movie's plot is pure sequel. Where box office rival Monsters University levels the repeated fun with a new context and a shrewd attention to character development, Despicable Me 2 is interested in amping up the stuff you like and giving you more of it. The minions, for example, take on a far more important role, and teeny-tiny Agnes steps forward as the child most audience beloved.  The big addition to the team is Agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig), an extremely excitable stick-figure who recruits Gru (Steve Carell) for a top-secret mission with the Anti-Villain League. Gru, of course, remains retired from his nefarious pursuits. He's settled into the role of full-time suburban dad to Margo, Agnes, and Edith - planning fairy-princess themed birthday parties instead of elaborate heists.  Still, the League gives him a taste of the old life, and he and Lucy go undercover at the local mall to investigate mysterious happenings.
Wiig's character runs a little on the shrill side til you get used to her, yes, but if nothing else, Despicable Me makes a strong case for why - from time to time- celebrity voice talent can be worth the excess budget. Carell's overcooked Slavic accent remains a pitch-perfect match for Gru's Uncle Fester-y appeal, and listening to him swing through moods, modes, and roles is pretty fabulous. All the actors tend to disappear into their characters here instead of being used for some identifiable street cred, and in general they work it to their advantage. Still, several of the supporting roles are practically invisible, and a few of the characters have all but disappeared.  Edith, for example, barely has a role here, exchanged for Agnes's universal cuteness and Margo's slight contribution to pushing forward the plot.

Flimsiness aside, there's something illogically logical about the fun in Despicable Me 2, so much so that when you find yourself giggling to a minion rendition of "YMCA" it doesn't matter how many low-brow past kids movies it calls to mind: it just makes sense. Despicable Me is pure comedy, and pure cartoon. It's light, frothy, and fun in the spare way that comedies tend to be. You laugh, it works, that's all there is to it. The characters click. Gru's world is such that utter nonsense arises organically, and so we have no trouble believing it when it does.

2 comments:

  1. Not many sequels work, but I loved this. That photo you have above of El-Macho dying already has me cracking-up remembering it.

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    1. There's just something so, so enjoyable about these films. It's hard to resist them. Not sure I could trust someone who said they didn't crack a smile while watching...

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