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Despicable Me 2 brings laughs, storyline fizzles
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Characters Lucy, voiced by Kristen Wiig, right, and Gru, voiced by Steve Carell in a scene from “Despicable Me 2.”

‘Despicable Me 2’
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Kate Fisher, Benjamin Bratt
Rated: PG for rude humor and mild action.
Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Bottom line: Big laughs, weak story

Universal Pictures really pulled off something back in 2010 when “Despicable Me” earned more than half a billion dollars worldwide and worked its way into the home video hearts of America.

Universal had no lasting animation franchise at the time. It failed to develop one with “Tale of Despereaux” in 2008, which should have been a good bet. It was based on a popular children’s book and had all the right talent involved. That formula usually works.

Instead, “Despereaux” flopped and “Despicable Me,” an original property, came along two years later and became the new face of the studio.

And now, all box-office forecasts predict “Despicable Me 2” will dominate its main competition in its opening weekend, “The Lone Ranger,” a Disney film starring one of the biggest movie stars on Earth.

The franchise Gru built is now an industry powerhouse.

So what did Universal, producer Chris Meledandri, and directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud do with the franchise now that it is a bankable property?

Not very much.

It takes years to make a computer-animated feature. The process is so arduous and expensive that before the project even reaches the animation phase, the screenplay goes through numerous drafts and each scene is meticulously and repeatedly storyboarded, pitched and revised. Even after the basic story has been conceived, it sometimes takes a year to get the script just right.

That is why it is so shocking the story in “Despicable Me 2” is so weak. Rarely has an animated film contained so many wasted setups and unnecessary scenes.

The primary story is supposed to be that Gru (Steve Carell), retired from super-villainy and coping with life as a single dad to three adopted daughters, gets pulled back into action. Having already become a hero in the first film, it is entirely expected Gru would battle a super villain in this sequel.

Also predictable is Gru would develop a love interest. A spy named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) recruits Gru to work for an international undercover agency, and the two of course spark.

The romantic subplot is the best part of the film, mostly because Lucy is such a quirky, surprising character and because Wiig’s voice work is hilarious.

Otherwise, though, the film consists of subplots that never develop and scenes that do nothing to push the story along.

Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), the eldest daughter, has discovered boys and develops a crush on one boy in particular. This bothers Gru enormously ... until that storyline just sort of falls apart.

Middle child Edith (Dana Gaier) does almost nothing in this film other than strike a few ninja poses.

Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), the impossibly cute baby of the family, desperately longs to have a mother in her life, which is very touching. She has most of the heartfelt lines and many of the funniest jokes. This story thread does come to a resolution, but you can likely predict that ending already.

Even the villain (Benjamin Bratt) is mostly a non-factor. That primary story is virtually forgotten for much of the film.

The minions get plenty of screen time, and they are just as funny the second time around, but their scenes are tangential to the story at best.

The movie spends time on other tangents, too, like Agnes’ birthday party. Remember the scene in “Parenthood” when the cowboy doesn’t show up for the birthday party, so Steve Martin has to dress up like Cowboy Gil so his son won’t be disappointed? “Despicable Me 2” rips off the idea, only it’s a princess character. It seems like an excuse to put Gru in a dress.

The film offers a lot of great gags, but not a single unexpected moment.

“Despicable Me 2” is a very funny movie, but it’s disappointing the filmmakers didn’t push the franchise in a direction that matches the creativity and unpredictability of the original film.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.

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