Fair Value of This Film: $5.00. It’s your best bet for new children’s movies at the moment, entertaining but not a classic. It’s a tolerably funny film for adults.
Blofeld/Dr. Evil knockoff mastermind Gru (Steve Carrell) is now comfortably tamed, living in suburban single parenthood. Gru has reached the point of acting as an ersatz princess at his daughter Agnes’ (Elsie Fisher) birthday party, while his neighbors try to fix him up with dates. While previously Gru plotted to steal the moon, now he is planning his entry into the novelty jelly business (fruit jams and jellies, you sicko!). The tedium of his existence is upended when he is subjected to extraordinary rendition and conscripted into working for the Anti-Villain League, a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like operation. Gru is assigned to work with the manic Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to attempt to find a mastermind responsible for stealing a super-serum. It is believed that said mastermind is using a mall business as a front, and so Gru and Lucy have to pose as another shopping mall business, attempting to discern which of the suburban entrepreneurs is actually a budding super-villain. Meanwhile, Gru’s adopted daughters Agnes and Edith (Dana Geier) attempt to play match-maker for Gru, and eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) develops her first crush on a boy. And all the while, unnoticed by Gru, his Twinkie-like minions are vanishing….
While Gru is busy playing mall cop, someone is poaching his underlings. And using the super-serum to turn them into manic purple monsters which eat everything. Yes, this film has one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eaters.
Rules of Being an Evil Overlord that can be learned from this film:
• Announce your weapons after you attack
• I will keep transponders on all my minions, with a daily report on their total numbers. This will allow me to notice any reduction of the minion population and respond accordingly.
• If possible, I will minimize the number of people working on my monster formula, so as to prevent an antidote from being devised.
• However tempting it may be to get a leg up on rivals, I will not recruit the lieutenants of my enemies. They will inevitably have a crisis of confidence at a critical juncture.
• I shall ensure that my minions are sufficiently trained and loyal, so that they shall remain effective military forces even after they have been de-monstrified.
• If I am to use giant missiles to deliver my biologically enhanced monster minions, I shall ensure that containment cages are fully sealed, to reduce the exposure of my monsters to antidotes.
• I will never turn myself into a muppet. That never helps.
So I have to tow some number of immature mini-humans to this movie. How many cocktails will I have to chug to withstand their screeching?
Two or three. It’s got enough energy and Warner Brothers Looney Tunes style comedy as to be mostly amusing.
I’d like to introduce a new test to be applied to instances of children’s entertainment, which I shall call the Poochie test. In The Simpsons, Poochie was the rapping surfing dog with an attitude, a corporate addition to The Itchy and Scratchy Show, turning it from Bart’s favorite show into the “Worst. Episode. Ever.”. Tangent: this gave my people, the nation of basement-dwelling butter-trolls, our rallying motto that has been used ever since. The Poochie test refers to how much a particular piece of entertainment tries to appeal to kids by conforming to adult ‘s misguided perceptions of what trends children currently consider to be cool (the number of such references being the ‘Poochie Factor’ of the work). So if you have a character that says “YOLO” or “Oh. It is SO on” or any other pop cultural phrase, rather than establishing the character’s own language and idioms, that film or TV episode is suddenly far closer to flunking the Poochie Test.
The Poochie Test: How much a piece of children’s entertainment relies on current pop cultural references being uttered incongruously as a source of comedy and entertainment; also, how much a piece of children’s entertainment relies on fads and trends to signal how ‘cool’ a character is supposed to be. If your script sounds more like a trivia contest on a reality TV show than actual human dialogue, you have failed the Poochie test. And like Poochie, you should die on your way back to your home planet.
Where Despicable Me 2 rates on the Poochie Test: A low rating of about three ‘Poochie moments’. Despicable Me 2 relies on slapstick more than pop culture, and it’s a better movie for it.
That being said, it’s what I’d call a “Further adventures of” sequel. A “further adventures” film doesn’t develop the characters of the first film, but merely gives you another helping of what made the first film good, in the hopes that it will provide a similar amount of entertainment. Neither Gru nor his children really change or learn or grow; their family dynamic isn’t challenged; the film is really a series of vignettes, without a moral or an emotional heart.
This film manages to feel padded and hurried at the same time. It is padded with a number of song and dance sequences which are more filler than entertainment. There are a lot of sub-plots which briefly arise without further exploration. Why does Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) have a change of heart after defecting? Margo’s crush and attempts at chasing Antonio (Moises Arias), and Gru’s desperate attempts to halt her progression into adolescence, could have provided a solid dramatic basis for the film. A good comedic mind could have milked a great deal more potential from the villains hiding in suburban malls concept- think Hot Fuzz meets with Observe and Report, albeit G-rated. Instead we have a film that seems rushed to production before the script was refined, and that was then blown up from a scant 70 minutes to 90 minutes by having singing Twinkie minions.
This film is saved from utter mediocrity by pure cartoon antics. The Twinkie minions are given center stage, and their combination of gibbering chatter and bumbling infighting makes the film fun.
I heard a lot more giggling and laughter from the audience on a Monday evening than I heard from the audience at Monsters University on opening night. Even if it’s in episodic fits and starts, this film is trying to be a bit weirder. I don’t think that anyone is going to remember Despicable Me 2 down the road, but it provides a few laughs.