‘Despicable Me 2’

Despicable Me 2's Gru visits  Lucy's shopToo much sweetness. Too much box-office grosses.

So there, in two succinct phrases, lie the problems of “Despicable Me 2.” The original 2010 animated film, “Despicable Me,” grossed over $540 million worldwide, making it a surprising #10 in animation box-office history. Which absolutely mandates a sequel.

But the original film was complete in itself, story over-and-done. Once super villain Gru (voice courtesy of Steve Carell) was tamed by three adorable orphan girls, the tale has been told. Everyone can settle into a family life without the lure of villainy.

So what’s there to do in a sequel?

Writers Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio never really solve this dilemma. You witness Gru, now a suburban family man, and his girls happily frolic. Since Gru’s wily scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and his seeming millions of Minions lack for villainy to accomplish, they set about creating a line of jellies and jams.

Which never quite come out right in the lab.

Despicable Me 2's Gru tucks in his daughterGru must worry about boys and other dangers to his girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). Otherwise things wouldn’t be cozier. Maybe that is what’s spoiling Dr. Nefario’s jelly. Too much sweetness.

The movie drowns in it. Who wants to see a super villain acting like an old sweetheart?

Oh, sure, a plot comes along that has a secret crime-fighting organization recruit Gru and team him up with Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to battle a new bad guy. Who better to go after a super villain than a former super villain, right?

It’s pretty dull stuff though, so dull in fact that much of the movie takes place in a shopping mall. Which of these shopkeepers is the super villain in disguise?

Is it Floyd Eagle-san (Ken Jeong), owner of a hair replacement club for men? Or Eduardo Perez (Benjamin Bratt, very good), proprietor of a Mexican restaurant, who everyone suspects is the macho villain El Macho? And what of his suave son Antonio (Moises Arias), who is making eyes at Margo?

Despicable Me 2's Minions chatter to selvesNow a doting bachelor father, Gru runs in circles to protect his girls, woo Lucy against his better judgment and keep pace with a super villainy that involves a serum that turns his Minions into fiery warriors — ones that would barely scare anyone.

“Despicable Me 2” is not without its charms. The voice actors, especially Carell, are in fine form. Children will certainly enjoy the film. The pratfalls, gizmos and Loony Tunes “violence” will elicit giggles from kids while adults are left to smile indulgently. What is missing though is the delicious bad-guy vibe from the earlier film.

Under the direction of the original directors, Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin, the CG animation by Paris-based Illumination Mac Guff is splendid. Clearly there was more money for the sequel and the character designs, most of them holdovers from the original film, of course, spring to life in amusing ways, especially those Minions gone to the dark side.

You can skip paying extra for 3D, however, as it barely comes into play until a clever end credit roll that’s worth staying for. Truth to tell, it’s actually funnier and more inventive than the film itself. For one thing, there’s no sweetness.

Opens: July 3, 2013 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: Universal Pictures presents a Chris Meledandri production
Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Cogan, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Moises Arias
Directors: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
Screenwriters: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
Character designers: Carter Goodrich, EricGuillon
Production designers: Yarrow Cheney, Eric Guillon
Music: Heitor Pereira
Original themes and songs: Pharrell Williams
Editor: Gregory Perler
PG rating, 100 minutes