Gru is back, and you know what that means...so are the Minions! Discover our verdict on Despicable Me 2 a week ahead of its June 28th release!
If there's one thing which I'm sure both Pixar and Dreamworks Studios will confirm to you these days, it's that getting an animated film sequel right is an almighty challenge. Recent follow-ups such as Cars 2 and Ice Age: Continental Drift have proven in strong measure that if a balance between nostalgia and innovation isn't struck in these successors, then there's often an empty feeling for the viewer as they realise they're watching a less accomplished second instalment.
The gauntlet has been laid down to Despicable Me 2, then, to impress us in the midst of rather overwhelming odds. Thankfully, the production team don't seem to have crumbled under the weight of expectations, providing us with a humorous and compelling second take on the beloved animated film franchise. First and foremost, this continued success is due to the one element of the narrative that has dominated its marketing campaign- the Minions. These hapless yellow rascals get up to all sorts of child-friendly yet hilarious hi-jinks during their increased screen time, and as such are likely to provide a strong number of the laughs elicited from the audience in the neat 90 minute running time.
Other than the Minions, though, there are still a good number of much-loved guest stars on hand to provide comedic portrayals of main characters. Steve Carrell's Gru is still a lovable anti-hero, Russell Brand's Dr Nefario less prominent yet still a hit with fans, Kristen Wiig's newcomer Agent Lucy Wilde of the Anti Villain League is a great ploy for the protagonist and as ever Miranda Cosgrove lends great humour as one of the three adorable children that Gru has adopted. This reviewer did ultimately wonder if on the whole, some of the scenes involving these characters exclusively felt like stop-gaps to the next Minion setpiece, but if that's the case then it wasn't a particularly notable flaw of the piece.
Visually, in no manner can Despicable Me 2 be criticised. We have some absolutely accomplished animation here courtesy of Dreamworks, on a par with Kung Fu Panda 2 for sheer spectacular fidelity yet still able to reflect the subtler emotional moments present in the likes of the Shrek instalments. The soundtrack works wonders too, featuring renditions of YMCA and other classic tracks from the Minions, while also blending in actual hits such as Where Them Girls At in its latter stages. There are few animated films these days that boast such aesthetic confidence, and this unique attribute really works to DM2's advantage.
Where does the motion picture falter, then? Ultimately, it's in the most rudimentary area: that of emotion. During its opening and final scenes, Despicable Me 2 isn't left wanting for a few "Aww!" moments involving Gru's relationship with his new family, but during the main narrative there's little in the way of actual emotional resonance for the audience. Once upon a time, I would have argued that perhaps this is an inevitable trait of the animation genre, yet when movies such as Shrek (4.5/5), Toy Story 3 (5/5) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (4.5/5) can strike such an impressive balance of light action with emotional moments, this is no longer the case and as such I can't simply rank this one on the basis of its oft tear-light genre.
Ultimately, though, Despicable Me 2 surpasses the vast majority of efforts within its genre simply because it boasts an inert charm and likeability that could easily sustain the franchise for a range of future instalments. Indeed, when it's those scenes lacking the Minions that highlight the movie's occasional shortcomings, it's very reassuring to think that in 2014 we're getting a spin-off film, Minions, dedicated exclusively to those yellow icons (the mid-credits 'audition' sequence involving them alone certainly deserves your attention for a few minutes after the film itself). This reviewer would certainly recommend Despicable Me 2 this Summer to any viewer who is willing to indulge themselves for a great laugh, kid-friendly action and just a general sense of relaxing comedy, for at its heart this budding animated sequel asks nothing more than to show you a good time, an aim which it accomplishes with a hearty flourish.
Despicable Me 2 releases in cinemas everywhere on June 28th.