Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Despicable Me 2 - 2013

"Despicable Me 2" - 2013
Dir. by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud - 1 hr. 38 min.

Official Trailer #3

by Clayton Hollifield

I'd say that the things that I really love about both of the "Despicable Me" movies have more to do with the execution of the material, and with the character design, than with the story or humor within.  I'm not sure what to do with that; there are peculiarities that I find fascinating, but I'm not sure how that translates to someone who isn't an animation buff or isn't an artist, and just wants to go see a movie.  "Despicable Me 2" is clearly not painful to get through, it's a pretty breezy hour and a half, and it's fairly clever, and thankfully for adult viewers, the entire story isn't told through the lens of a five year-old.

Not too long after the first movie ended (I think all the goorls, as Gru calls them, are about the same age as they were before), Agnes is having a birthday party.  Things seem to be going pretty well on the family front, but Gru (Steve Carell), instead of trying to conquer the world with evil, is concentrating his efforts and resources to developing a new line of jams and jellies.  Thankfully, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an agent with the Anti-Villain League, comes along with a more fulfilling job offer.  This involves going undercover as the owners of a cupcake store in the mall, to figure out which of the other proprietors is in possession of a formula that turns things evil and capable of eating steel.  At the same time, the goorls start to feel the absence of a mother in their lives, and push Gru into the dating arena, albeit very reluctantly.

Again, the story isn't really the whole point here.  It's not bad, I wasn't sitting in the theatre rolling my eyes at it's ridiculousness.  But the things that really appeal to me are the character and set design, and the lively, specific character animation.  Both movies in this series achieve something unusual with computer animation: stylization.  Despite obviously coming out of a computer, the characters are not just slightly exaggerated, yet largely realistically depicted.   Gru's design makes me want to sit down and draw him, he's like Charles Addams' Uncle Fester with a giant beak.  The other characters are similarly specific; Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt) is the proprietor of a Mexican restaurant, and he's built wide and jiggly, like an aged luchador, and Lucy is also refreshing - she's built for comedy and expressiveness, not your standard female character with interchangeable hair to distinguish her.  There's a great gag near the end of the movie to do with Lucy's and Gru's oversized noses that couldn't have been done with a button-nosed Disney princess.  That's the sort of reward you get from non-standard designs, and from having someone paying attention to how the pieces fit together.

Secondly, and probably the primary reason to go see animated features in the theatre as opposed to just watching whatever animated TV shows are available, is that all of the characters actually move!  And I'm not just talking about their lips (there was a great clip that someone had done of a "Family Guy" scene, where they blacked out everything on-screen except for what was actually moving.  Suffice to say there was a lot of black on the screen), the characters are generally lively and fun (and that's not even counting the minions, who are constantly awesome).  There was a short sequence where a pair of minions were taking Gru into Eduardo's house that showcases how good (and how specific) the character animation is here; Gru overacts dramatically, trying to sell that he's a prisoner to the onlookers.  And then there's this sequence, which probably won't be online for long:

"Happy" sequence"

It's really hard to get mad at a children's feature for not reinventing the wheel.  If you're aiming at ten year-olds (or whatever), they haven't seen enough film to know that some things might have been retreaded.  All you can really hope for, as an adult viewer, is that it's not brutal to watch, and not so stupid that you can feel your IQ points floating off into the ether.  Granted, there are fart guns here, but "Despicable Me 2" isn't hard to get through.  I don't know if my appreciation for the execution of the material made me enjoy the film more, or just differently than others, but I still liked it.  I think it's a solid film, although not a great one, which I think is about what I thought of the first installment.  After two examples of handing animation well (and in their own, non-standard way), I'd be game to see whatever directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud do next.

3 / 5 - Theatre (2D)

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