DESPICABLE ME 2
Voiced by: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong (English version)
Directors: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
They may have played a supporting role in the first Despicable Me (2010), but the Minions have moved up some. Indeed, the adorable thumb-shaped, yellow, bespectacled creatures with prosaic names, high-pitched voices and their own quirky language are key to the plot of Despicable Me 2, playing the roles of victims as well as heroes.
The bright, breezy animated film picks up where the first one left off, with the Minions' tough boss, Gru (Steve Carell), having given up his villainous ways. He has converted his underground lab into a factory for jams and jellies headed by Dr Nefario (Russell Brand).
The doting father of three girls, whom he adopted in the first film, has also taken to reading bedtime stories about kittens and planning birthday parties where he is forced to wear something pink and sparkly.
But then Gru's life changes after a visit from Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent with the Anti-Villain League. She takes Gru to the underwater headquarters to meet her boss, Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), and strives to convince Gru to join the movement to locate an unknown villain who, of course, has a plan totake over the world.
Could the villain be swarthy salsa restaurateur El Macho (Benjamin Bratt) or wig store owner Floyd (Ken Jeong)? In any case, much of the action plays out against the candy-coloured backdrop of the local shopping mall, which happens to be where Gru's eldest daughter, Martha (Miranda Cosgrove), develops her first crush. And in the midst of his fretting over Martha's budding interest while attempting to save the world again, Gru's own love story unfolds.
Despicable Me 2 may offer few surprises, but it is entertaining and well paced. The Minions are as cute as ever; Gru is full of pithy one-liners; and youngest daughter Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) is a doe-eyed treasure who can melt the hardest heart.
To be sure, certain members of the film's stellar cast could have been put to better use. In particular, Wiig, one of the freshest comedic voices around, is not given enough to do as Wilde.
And Jeong, whose sardonic one-liners in Community have elevated that television series to another level, similarly fades into the background here; his character's appearance seems to be an afterthought.
But, thankfully, Gru is still Gru: broad-chested, pencil-legged, with that accent of indeterminate origin, alternating between cynical and sentimental, and drawn so endearingly.
Yes, there are gadgets galore and enough action to keep thrill junkies happy, but there is a sweet, human core to this film's story that does shine through.
Despicable Me 2 opens on July 4