Despicable Me 2

Posted on July 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

Is there more to the story of “Despicable Me” after Gru (Steve Carell) isn’t despicable anymore? Despicable-Me-2The original, with Gru and Vector (Jason Segal) as warring super-villains, was one of the best animated films and one of the best family movies of the past several years.  The characters, brilliantly designed by illustration great Carter Goodrich, were a magnificent contrast, Gru all musty gothic and Victorian, with heavy carved wood and hammered metal and Vector all sleek and mid-century Creamsicle colors.  The happy ending had Gru’s heart warming to three adorable orphan girls and saving the day.

With all of that resolved, this movie never quite reaches the emotional resonance of the first, and this edition’s villain (I will try not to give away any surprises that occur after the first third of the film) is not as interesting as Vector, visually or in terms of plot or character.

But it is still wonderfully imaginative and fun, with a masterful use of 3D and breathtaking, precision-timed, action sequences that are both exciting and hilarious.  And there are minions.

The adorable yellow creatures who appear to be made from marshmallow peeps and serve as Gru’s version of ooompa-loompas are even more effective scene-stealers than they were in the first outing, whether wearing a fetching maid uniform, reacting to the taste of a very bad batch of jelly, or suffering the effects of a transforming serum called PX41.  Watch the end credits — they appear to be poised to take over the next chapter.

There are some new characters in this sequel, too, most delightfully Lucy, an agent for the Anti-Villain League who recruits Gru to help her save the world.  She is charmingly voiced by Kristin Wiig (a different accent and a different character from the orphanage director she played in the first movie), and deliciously drawn, with Lucille Ball-red hair and a fearless but charmingly dorky personality.  A local mom keeps trying to fix Gru up with her single friends and the girls want him to try a computer matchmaker.  But it is Lucy who makes him consider for the first time getting over the childhood trauma that made him decide that romance was beyond his ability.  Lucy is adorkable, both coltish and rubber-limbed, cheerily explaining to Gru that he should not announce his weapon until after he uses it, and then demonstrating by singing out “lipstick taser!” as he seizes and jerks on the ground.

Meanwhile, there is a new super-villain to track down.  The Anti-Villain League has traced him or her to the local mall (witty and imaginatively conceived).  So Gru and Lucy go undercover with a cupcake shop called Bake My Day and try to figure out which of the local merchants has the PX41.  This is much more exciting than trying to make an honest living manufacturing jams and jellies, especially after the departure of his long-time aide, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), who leaves for evil-er pastures.

In the midst of all this, Gru still has his parental responsibilities, including some worries over oldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), who has spotted a cute boy named Antonio (“Kings of Summer’s” Moises Arias), who has Beiberific hair and all the charm of a future Latin lover.

A chase scene that has the minions trying to protect Gru is one of the best action sequences of the year and Gru’s entry into the super-villain’s lair is cleverly designed.   It is fun to see Gru try to manage a 6-year-old’s birthday party (like Steve Martin in “Parenthood,” he has to step in as the entertainment) while redefining himself as a man the girls can trust and respect.  It isn’t the villain who’s his match this time, it’s his partner in non-crime.  While not as liberatingly refreshing as the original, it is still a blast and one of the best family films of the year.

Parents should know that this film has several instances of potty humor and some violence and peril (mostly comic but with weapons and drug-induced personality transformations).  There’s a brief shot of a bare minion tush and a joke about being drunk.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Gru to tell Lucy how he felt? What “despicable” qualities did Gru have that helped him be a better good guy?

If you like this, try: “Despicable Me” and “Megamind”

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3D Action/Adventure Animation Comedy Crime Series/Sequel

First Lady Visits iCarly

Posted on January 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Entertainment Weekly reports that as a part of her Joining Forces program to support the US military troops and their families, First Lady Michelle Obama will make an appearance on the Nickelodeon television program iCarly.  Miranda Cosgrove (“School of Rock”) plays a girl whose father is a U.S. Air Force officer stationed on a submarine.

Carly’s friends set up a webcast so Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) can communicate with him at a military base. With a few Secret Service agents in tow (including one played by… Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam!), Mrs. Obama surprises Carly and Co. to commend them for supporting military families (as part ofthe First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative). The kids invite her to appear on iCarly, and not only does she oblige, she even engages in some random dancing.

The Entertainment Weekly site has a clip of Mrs. Obama’s appearance on the show, which will be broadcast January 16 at 8/7 central.

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Television

Despicable Me

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 8:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor and mild action
Profanity: Some crude schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon violence including explosions, shark, crashes, peril, but no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 9, 2010
Date Released to DVD: December 14, 2010
Amazon.com ASIN: B0042U94UQ

We usually just take it for granted that the villain wants to rule the world without worrying too much about why. But one of the many charms of this utterly delightful film is that we get a glimpse that is both funny and satisfying of what it is that makes not one but two super-villains so intent on being despicable.

We even get a flashback of our anti-hero, Gru (voice of Steve Carell with a Boris Badenov accent) as a child, confiding his dreams of being an astronaut to his mother (voice of Julie Andrews as Natasha!). She crushes his hopes with a cruel insult. So decades later, he is still trying to earn her respect, now as a super-thief. No matter how audacious his capers, however, she is still unimpressed. He has stolen the Jumbotron from Times Square and the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty (okay, those last two are the replicas from Vegas). But he still needs to make that one heist that will show her he can earn her respect. He could not be an astronaut and fly to the moon. So, maybe he could steal it.

And then there’s the anti-anti-hero, who has just adopted the villain name Vector. He may have a nifty name and even niftier equipment, his lair guarded by everything from heat-seeking missiles to buzz saws and a shark, and he may have just pulled off the theft of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it turns out he has some trouble pleasing his parent, too.

So it’s a race between Gru and Vector to see who can steal the moon, which first involves stealing the shrink ray they need to make it small enough to carry home. And, adorably, this requires the involvement of dozens of little yellow “minions” who look like oompa-loompas made out of marshmallow peeps and three little orphan girls who live with a Miss Hannigan-style harridan as they hope someone will give them a real home. Maybe made of gummi bears.

The resilience of the three girls (the oldest voiced by Miranda Cosgrove of “iCarly” and “School of Rock”) is a sublime counterpart to the unhappiness and insecurity of Gru and his arch-rival Vector (voice of Jason Segal), showing us that even the rottenest of circumstances does not have to make you overly vulnerable or mean. When Gru brings them home as a way of getting into Vector’s compound (his security system features missiles and a shark but he can’t resist the girls’ cookies), he is so clueless he puts out candy in a dog bowl and newspapers on the floor. But as we have glimpsed in his interaction with the minions (I loved the matter-of-fact way he knows all the names of the almost-identical horde), he is susceptible to being liked and trusted. And he slowly begins to learn that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to care; he was scared to.

Brilliant production design contrasts Gru’s goth with a touch of steampunk lair in the middle of a street of identical homes with Vector’s sleek, Apple-eseque, creamsicle-colored high-tech headquarters. The expert pacing keeps things fresh, funny, and exciting. And a twist on the usual race-to-the-big-event-to-show-your-new-found-values reminds us all that the great thing about families is you can always have a second chance.

It looks like 2010 will go down in history as the year 3D animation kicked the stuffing out of all the live-action releases. Pixar opened the door and it is a thrill to see studios like Illumination showing what they have to bring to audiences ready to accept animation as art and as heart-warming family entertainment.

And here’s a special glimpse of one of the extras on the new DVD release:

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3D Animation Comedy Crime DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For the Whole Family

iCarly

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm

iCarly is a cute Nickelodeon series about a girl named Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) who creates her own web show called iCarly with her best friends Sam and Freddie. The series incorporates content produced by the viewers. I’ve got copies of the new DVD (Season One, Volume 2) to give away to the first four people who send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “iCarly” in the subject line. Tell me what you like best about iCarly!

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