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The landscape of animated films in the new century is arguably dominated by two rival studios: Pixar and Dreamworks.  Pixar has always been the front-runner, while Dreamworks has been forced to play second fiddle.  Don’t weep for Dreamworks, however, as this time as “runner up” launched one of the most successful franchises in the Shrek movies.

Third party animated films of any note are few and far between, but in 2010 we got one in Despicable Me, brought to us by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.  Throw together adorable kiddies, a particularly complicated protagonist/bad guy in Gru, some dynamite voicework by Steve Carell and the rest of the cast, not to mention the most marketable little minions since the Oompa Loompas, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide hit on your hands.  Naturally, this year saw the release of the sequel and while it may not pack the emotional arc that made the original an endearing surprise hit, Despicable Me 2 is fun, action-packed, and a smart, family-friendly movie.

We pick up with Gru’s brood a few years later and for a former evil genius-turned-single parent, Gru is doing pretty well for himself.  The girls love him as a father and they’ve filled the hole in his heart that was left when he decided to give up his plans for world domination.  All is not right in the world, however, as a mysterious ship just stole an entire arctic research facility and the secret formula that turns anything injected with it into purple killing machines.  Enter the Anti-Villain League: a super secret spy agency tasked with keeping tabs on evildoers.  With no leads, the AVL employs the help of Gru to help track down the one responsible for the theft and bring them to justice.  To help him, the AVL sends new agent Lucy, a bubbly personality looking to prove her merit, to be his second-in-command.

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Fans of Pixar or animated movies in general have been waiting for the sequel to The Incredibles for quite some time and the spy plotline in this film is a wonderful way to keep those fans satisfied.  It may not be the sweeping epic that The Incredibles gave us, but it’s a nice, scaled-down version that gives you everything you would hope for.  Basically, if The Incredibles is a James Bond film, Despicable Me 2 is Get Smart.

Most importantly, the sequel stays true to the original.  It picks up where the original left off and it seems like the natural progression, especially when concerned with the relationship between Gru and his girls.  While Gru is a fine father, he can’t replace in the lives of his girls (more specifically, the cute-as-a-button Agnes) the mother figure that is obviously absent.  Admittedly, this leads to some of the most predictable parts of the story, but this is a kid’s movie and while it may be obvious, it’s no less genuine to the characters.

What make these movies so much fun are the characters.  Gru was a pretty complicated character in the first one, which was the basic premise of the film.  Here, it’s less about him being complicated and more about him being interesting.  He still has some of his surliness that you’ll recognize from the original, but now there is no character turmoil between being good and bad.  This could’ve been a good opportunity to add to that inner conflict, but the film doesn’t necessarily suffer from it.

It doesn’t seem to be a secret that the creators of the film favor Agnes over the other girls in the film.  Agnes is basically an older version of Boo from Monsters, Inc.  She’s incredibly adorable, with her big eyes and sweetness and is the one that gets the most screen time and does her part in pushing forward the secondary story.

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Of course, you can’t talk about a Despicable Me movie without talking about the Minions, who are without a doubt, the funniest part of the movie.  It’s a no-brainer that these little yellow dudes will be the focal point of the following movie.  The drama of the Gru family seem to be all wrapped up, so while they’ll still be a joy to watch in a supporting role, the Minions will be fun to see in a starring role.

I also liked the addition of Lucy, who is essentially Gru’s foil.  Kristen Wiig plays Lucy and she gives one hell of a voice performance.  She has all the energy you’d expect from Wiig and the animators do a nice job with animating her character with similar bravado.  Wiig can build herself a nice off-camera career with performances such as this and she does it about as good as any celebrity.

Despicable Me 2 may not be as good as the original, but it’s still quite fun to see.  Kids are sure to enjoy watching Gru and the Minions in action, but the adults will be able to have fun as well.

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Rating 3.5/5

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