Illumination Entertainment is not a name one would be as familiar with as is the case with Pixar or DreamWorks in the field of animation. A studio which came out with its first feature film only three years ago has still a long way to go to be considered on equal terms with the likes of the other behemoths in this industry. Does that matter this weekend? Absolutely not. You may not know Illumination Entertainment, but you do know Despicable Me, the first movie of the studio which released in 2010 and became the surprise package of that year, introducing so many new colourful characters in the world of animation that you would be lost if you just had to pick up one toy model from a bunch. What Despicable Me did back then was bring back buckets of colour in animation, bring back loads of cuteness, at a time when even animated movies were dabbling in the shades of grey. Its success called for a sequel, one of those times when the audience would have screamed for it more than the studio, for there was just too much of love, camaraderie and fun contained within the first one, that you could not mind a second helping. So behold, Despicable Me 2 has arrived and it has brought more of the same, colour, fun, adventure, love, and the minions!
Despicable Me 2 picks up on the story of Gru, a villain turned father now, a mellowed version of the Gru that we were introduced to in the first movie. He is a loving father to his three adopted daughters, but he still has his snarl and his frown, though his smiles have gotten wider. Things seem well in the Gru family, the daughters, Margo, Edith and Agnes are growing up fine, and the minions have been set to work on making flavours of jellies and jams, the new line of business Gru plans to enter. Of course, things are not going to go ahead as planned, are they? There is a super villain out there who needs to be caught and this task has been taken over by the Anti-Villain League, or simply AVL. Enter Lucy Wilde, the rookie in AVL who has the task of getting Gru to the AVL headquarters, for the organisation wants to use the skills of former villain Gru to catch hold of the new villain, whoever he is. And thus begins the adventure, an adventure in which Gru and his minions are very much in the centre of, an adventure where Gru has to still balance his role as a father, an adventure which would bring many new things in Gru’s life. The movie is set out to have the feel of a spy adventure, but that takes a back seat as we enjoy the unadulterated fun and humour that Despicable Me 2 casts effortlessly.
The tricky part of sequels, be it animation movies or otherwise, is about keeping the elements that made the first movie do well and yet introduce a freshness in the second that would make it distinctive. The lack of the latter has been the reason behind the failings of many a sequels. Thankfully, it is something Despicable Me 2 manages to avoid. It holds the elements of the first together, the bonding between the girls and Gru, the ridiculousness of the minions, the bizarre gadgets. And it brings in its own flavour, through quite a different story. While the first was about a villain trying to pull off the biggest crime of the century, the sequel is a more standard tale of the hero in search of the villain. But the reason it is still not so standard after all is thanks to the personality of Gru, who is anything but your Prince Charming hero. The screenplay for Despicable Me 2 is written by the duo who wrote the original, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, and credit has to be given to them for providing this movie with its own feel, so that even if you not seen the first, you could walk into the second and still be charmed.
The movie does not hold back in the ‘cuteness quotient’. Agnes, the youngest of the daughters, has been provided a more prominent role and voiced by the young Elsie Fisher, she brings in the emotional angle too. And then there are the minions. Hoards and hoards of them. Strange looking creatures, doing their jobs in a strange little manner. Oblivious to the predicaments they end up in, living life a second at a time. Laughing at the most childish of jokes, speaking in their own rambling tongue. Strangely enough, they seem to be conveying a lesson in life, which is simply, be happy. Maybe being silly is the key at times. That is what they do, enjoying everything that comes their way. Foolish minions. Cute minions. They do become the heartbeat of the movie. The minions have been voiced by none other than the directors themselves, Pierre Coffin being the voice for majority of them and Chris Renaud lending his voice to a few additional minions. Wow, that’s talent!
And moving to the key voices of the movie. Steve Carell again rocks! A comedian and a talented actor, Carell plays Gru to perfection with an accent quite original in its creation. I read an interview wherein Carell mentioned that he just made Gru sound simple to make things easy for him. That can be taken as a modest actor keeping his feet on the ground. While Gru’s personality would have been created by the writers, it is Steve Carell who brings him to life. His voice modulation is impeccable and he emotes Gru’s feelings, be it love or exasperation, so wonderfully, that it is not easy to stay disconnected with the movie. While there is a growing trend of having mainstream actors lend voices in animation, my heart fills with joy when the richness of the voices of true artists and comedians who can pull off the strangest of tricks with their enunciation and their modulation, are cast in animation flicks. Be it Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Billy Crystal, Eddy Murphy, or be it talented voice actors like Ben Burtt. The difference is clearly visible, or rather audible!
Accompanying Steve Carell, is another talented comedian, Kristen Wiig who plays the AVL rookie, Lucy Wilde (she played Miss Hattie, who runs the orphanage, in Despicable Me). As if there was any lack in the cuteness and humour, the directors have brought in another charming personality in the form of Lucy. She is the ‘something new’ for this movie, with her youthful eagerness and unabashed attitude. Kristen Wiig, another fine comic actor who has worked previously on Saturday Night Live, provides the female charm that Lucy’s character demands through her voice. It is another perfect fit, an important addition that allows Despicable Me 2 to take this franchise forward. Great casting! And then there is Benjamin Bratt who does a terrific job as Eduardo Perez, the restaurant owner, especially since he had to fit in quite late after Al Pacino left the sets even though he had already voiced some of his lines. Creative differences, is what has been said, though I wonder of what sort, when all they were asking you to do was speak. The old group of Russell Brand as Dr Nefario, and Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher as the three girls, fit in comfortably well now.
The director duo of Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have pulled off another blockbuster here, filled with entertainment and fun. Despicable Me 2 falls short on the emotive angles in this movie when compared with the first, but that is something which one feels only as an after-thought. The movie is well-paced, filled with humour and with its slightly more than one and a half hour runtime, never feels to be dragging on. The next set of adventure would now be a prequel of sorts, or a spin-off one can call it, on the loved minions! Titled Minions (keep it simple), this movie would look for the origins of the minions and is being directed again by Pierre Coffin along with Kyle Balda, with voices of Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm attached. Set for a late 2014 release, Minions would be much awaited as one can never get enough of our little strange friends. But after Despicable Me 2, I would not mind seeing Gru in action again, and his bonding with the girls getting stronger as they grow up, and Kyle still being a weird pet to them all. As long as the directors and the writers can keep adding new dimensions to the movies, and let the minions do whatever they want to do, Despicable Me 3 is always welcome!