From a marketing perspective, you want the sequel to Despicable Me to at least have the word "despicable" in its title. I get it. It helps the inattentive to remember they liked you once before. But if truth still has any value in this world, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud might have considered calling this one Despicable Me 2: Except He's Super Nice Now.
Gru (the voice of Steve Carrell) has evolved. He's no longer hatching plots to steal the moon; instead he's a caring adoptive father to three adorable daughters and an artisanal jams and jellies entrepreneur. He's good at the parenting but bad at the jams, so when the Antivillain League sends agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to kidnap him and press him into service battling a new villain, he's not exactly unhappy with the idea of using his bad-guy skill set. It'll require that he use his powers for good, but you can't have everything when you're a recovering evildoer.
The mystery villain has a serum that transforms living beings into monsters. Injected into the Minions it turns them fanged, purple and hungry. Gru, Lucy and the remaining Minions leap into action -- pausing frequently for a variety of Minion set pieces and dance numbers -- in an effort to catch whomever's responsible. They will catch the miscreant, of course, but the antics involved in getting there rest squarely on the Minions' shoulders (okay, yes, they don't have shoulders, but you get me).
The Minions are, in fact, the answer to the question the film never explicitly asks but spends its running time addressing: what to do with your main character after you've un-despicable-ized him? And given him a love interest who's sweet instead of strange? And calmed down his idiosyncratic children? (fond memories of "FLUFFY!" gleefully shrieked will remain fond memories). You give him the starring role but effectively sideline him in favor of the bouncy supporting cast, that's what. The little yellow creatures speaking in French-inflected gibberish are getting their own film in 2014 but you'd be forgiven for thinking it was already here -- and it doesn't feel that bad at all.
It's as bright and colorful, as crisp and clean as the first go-round. These movies are visually inventive treats, employing 3D to kid-pleasing effect (aka lots of stuff thrown at your face). But if it's lost some of its edge, vitality and blackened wit, just think of it as analogous to your own life: unless you're involved in organized crime or -- keeping it French -- Serge Gainsbourg, then becoming a parent ruins your edge. You'll never really be the cool dad you hoped you'd be. If it can happen to Gru it can happen to you.
STAR RATING: 3/5