After the surprise success of their debut feature, both critically and commercially, Illumination saw it fit to turn Despicable Me into a franchise. If the studio were to do that though, it would need to place more effort into its follow-up. Luckily, just that happened, with the studio releasing a film that was better in every conceivable way.
Somewhere within the Arctic Circle, an unknown supervillain has used a large magnet to thieve a top-secret research laboratory. While the audience is left unsure as to who, or what, is responsible for the heist, they can rule out Gru (Steve Carell) as a suspect – he has left the criminal life behind, and is trying to start a business selling various jams. When not making preserves, Gru looks after his three adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) who all adore him greatly.
Presently, Gru is approached by a woman named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) who represents the Anti-Villain League, an elite, secretive taskforce dedicated to stopping ever-ludicrous acts of evil-doing. Lucy brings Gru to the agency’s underwater headquarters where her superior, Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) assigns Gru with his mission: to uncover who was behind the recent Arctic theft. To undertake his objective, Gru is paired with Lucy and, weirdly, sent to work undercover at the local mall, where the AVL believes their suspect is hiding.
Despicable Me 2 feels a much fresher picture than its predecessor. Gone are the tropes and clichés which all-too-often afflict animated movies, giving way to a far smarter script. Quite often, the movie will produce a seemingly off-hand gag that actually serves as a set-up for a later scene, kind of like a smaller, more subtle Chekov’s gun. Adding to the freshness is Kristen Wiig, who brings an endless amount of energy to the voice of Lucy and is a very welcome addition to the cast.
The more significant improvement is the animation, the quality of which is at last comparable with its contemporaries. There are a wider variety of colours, the characters move more freely and the rendering looks cleaner, giving Despicable Me 2 a bright and professional aesthetic. Equally bright is the soundtrack of Pharrell Williams, containing the most cheerful song ever put to film: “Happy”. Though Pharrell’s other compositions are nowhere near as catchy as the aforementioned one, they too are upbeat and breezy.
Of course, the Minions are also present, which will no doubt raise the ire of some viewers. They have more screen-time than they did in the first Despicable Me, yet are no more irritating here than they were last time around, nor any funnier – but the movie itself is, thanks largely to the addition of Wiig’s character. While Despicable Me 2 would not be near as amusing without Lucy, the other characters can be funny when they need to be.
Unlike its initial outing, Despicable Me 2 is proof that Illumination can compete with the Hollywood heavyweights, with significant improvements being made to the story, animation, music and humour. Although lacking the creativity one might expect with the medium, it does set the benchmark for all of the studio’s future projects.