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Despicable Me 2

There are animated movies - the wistful works of Hayao Miyazaki, the dignified and stoic Adventures of Tintin, the mortally horrifying Polar Express - and then there are cartoons. Zany, kooky, rabble-rousing characters stumbling into the sorts of situations that no human being would ever face. With Pixar's sentimental soft spot and a general propensity for animated features to engage older audiences as well as younger ones, we don't often see the sort of Looney Tunes hijinks that once occupied every animated feature and short on the market. This is what makes Despicable Me 2 - or at least its early scenes - such a delight. Those of us who fawned over the off-the-wall shenanigans of Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer in our earlier days will beam with glee over high-speed chase sequences, minions scooting every which way, and even the simple element of how these oblong characters are drawn. At its core, Despicable Me 2 is a love letter to the wild, visually ravenous yore of animation.

And for many, this will be enough. Your eyes never tire of the aesthetic charms of the bright, colorful world that sprouts from the dens of DreamWorks. The funny-looking characters bounce along in a springboard universe, never sinking below giggle-worthy in their desperate command of your unblinking attention. Transforming the ceaseless banter of vaudeville greats into the visual spectrum, every movement in Despicable Me 2 becomes a gag. Nine out of 10 times, a successful one.

But that's as deep as the joy and charms go here, which is a shame and a surprise, considering the heartfelt original feature. While the nefarious Gru's (Steve Carell) first big screen outing had him changing his ways in light of a newfound affection for three orphan girls, the sequel finds the character, now wholly reformed, embarking upon the substantially less interesting adventure of getting a girlfriend. Not only to lay his childhood insecurities to waste, but also to appease his youngest daughter, Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), whose life ''just isn't complete'' without a mother.

And so, Gru teams up with secret agent and aspiring superhero Lucy (Kristen Wiig) in a mission to bring down the mysterious purveyor of an evil plot for world domination. After the inception of this plotline, things pretty much peter out, thematically. Gru fumbles with his feelings for Lucy, and she with hers for him, with a vile plot carrying out under their extensive noses all the while. The film grabs at some tender moments, but is undone by its own reputation: in no way could a simple undercooked romance story ever live up to the heart-melting triumph that was Despicable Me.

As such, the gags prevail as the biggest win of the sequel. Placing the minions center stage, the sequel seems to know what it's doing, banking on the universal appeal of the slapstick ensemble. Those who revel in nostalgia for the near-dead era of animated physical comedy will smile knowingly at Despicable Me 2's revival of the trade. But anyone looking for that sweet sentiment, that heartfelt substance, the admirable story of the original will have to settle for a lot of babbling green things. They're cute - you'd better believe they're cute - but that's about it.


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