Despicable Me 2: It’s Gru Love

The Minion-centric sequel — which introduces Kristen Wiig as Gru's object of affection — tops the original

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Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment

The IMDB logline for Despicable Me 2 is “Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.” Technically, that’s true, but this pleasing sequel is actually a classic marriage plot. Having acquired those three cute daughters (Edith, Margo and Agnes) and reformed his supervillain ways (he’s attempting to make jams and jellies in his basement laboratory) the domesticated Gru (Steve Carell) is now, after a lifetime of avoiding the opposite sex for fear of rejection, shoved into the dating market.

We first catch glimpse of him at Agnes’ birthday party, where the besotted new dad is forced into donning a frilly dress that would do Little Bo Peep proud (the rented fairy princess failed to show). He hasn’t lost his edge entirely, though. “How come you’re so fat?” one of the little party guests asks accusingly. “Because my house is made of candy,” Gru tells her. “And sometimes I eat instead of facing my problems.” While the Minions provide most of the obvious laughs — the flatulence humor is plentiful — returning screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul slip in choice lines like this for the parents in the audience.

(MORE: Richard Corliss on the First Despicable Me)

Gru remains top-heavy, bald and possessed of a nose as sharp as scythe, but the local moms aren’t about to let an eligible man go unmatched. A simpering blonde neighbor Jillian (Nasim Pedrad) sends him out on a date with one of her desperate housewife friends. (This overexercised, puffy-lipped creature is voiced by the great Kristen Schaal, which made me hope for a second date, despite how badly the first one goes.) His adopted daughters even join in the dating game, creating an online dating profile for him. But ultimately Gru’s love interest is Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an aggressive agent with the Anti-Villain League who bests him with her lipstick taser on the first encounter — this sequence, involving Lucy piloting a car that turns into a boat and then back into a car again, is one of the more artful pieces of animation in a nifty-looking movie.

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Gru is recruited for a mission involving teaming up with Lucy for undercover work at a local mall where a supervillain is supposedly hiding in plain sight, preparing some nefarious plot involving a toxic serum that turns even the sweetest puppy into a killing machine. In a nod perhaps to Wiig’s Bridesmaids’ baking-obsessed character, their false front is a cupcake shop, although no one spends much time in the bakery. Gru is most suspicious of the proprietor of a Mexican restaurant, El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), who bears a strong resemblance to an allegedly dead former colleague of his, but much of his animosity could stem from the fact that El Macho’s young hipster son (Moises Arias) catches the eye of Edith, now at the age of texting.

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The character of Lucy is beautifully drawn, a sharp, slender 1960s-style silhouette, but Wiig’s voice work is curiously flat. Much of her dialogue is almost without affect and you can picture the actress behind the character at that point, mumbling those droll little asides on Saturday Night Live. Much as a break from the customary shrill voices of animated family movies is appreciated, Lucy’s shrinking-violet voice sometimes seems ill matched to a character so fiercely committed to her bold crime-fighting career.

But that’s a quibble; Despicable Me 2 is far more entertaining than the disappointingly bland Monsters University and as a sequel stands level with the first film (also directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud), and may have the edge on it. I saw the movie in 3-D, which generally speaking I can take or leave but prefer to leave, given the extra expense. But Despicable Me 2 makes expert use of it; stay for the end credits, which are fabulous and give rise to the hope that the upcoming 2014 release Minions may be a worthy spin-off. I was very resistant to the Minions the first time around but have grown quite fond of Gru’s squishy yellow helpmates, whose versatility extends from vacuuming to doing a fine rendition of the Village People’s “YMCA.” As the song goes, there is no need to feel down. Not when the Minions are around.

MORE: TIME’s Q&A With Steve Carell