'Despicable Me 2' Rated PG: 98 minutes
3 1/2 stars out of four
LOS ANGELES - Stealing the moon can be a tough act to follow, as reformed criminal mastermind Gru and the creative team behind the $540-million-grossing 2010 smash "Despicable Me" discovered when it was time to dream up an encore.
After all, it was no mean feat to successfully juggle all that lunar lunacy with a delightful companion plot involving a trio of orphaned girls who, in turn, steal Gru's heart.
While the new edition doesn't quite catch that inspired spark, there's still plenty to enjoy here courtesy of those zippy visuals and a pitch-perfect voice cast led by the innately animated Steve Carell.
Expect the movie's minions to once again turn up in droves in what is certain to be a stellar Fourth of July holiday weekend.
"Despicable Me 2" finds Carell's Gru more or less embracing his newly domesticated life after adopting Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and little Agnes (Elsie Fisher), even swapping his more nefarious activities for a startup jelly-and-jam-making operation.
But he soon finds himself in a stickier situation when he's dispatched by the top-secret Anti-Villain League to track down the perpetrator of a fresh heist involving a ginormous electromagnet.
Setting up an undercover operation in a mall cupcake shop, Gru is reunited with fresh AVL recruit Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig, formerly the proprietor of Miss Hattie's Home for Girls), with his suspicions set on the gregarious owner of a Mexican restaurant (a terrific Benjamin Bratt), who bears a nagging resemblance to El Macho, a notorious villain believed to have perished while riding a shark into a volcano with 250 pounds of TNT strapped to his chest.
It's those sort of details that lend the "Despicable Me" franchise an irresistible Looney Tunes-style nuttiness - one even more prevalent this time around in the absence of a more substantial plotline.
Still, returning directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and the returning writing team of Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul again maintain the energy at a brisk, buoyant clip, while Carell and the rest of the cast add an extra layer of dimension to those expressively drawn characters.
Also amusingly returning to the fold is Russell Brand as rickety resident mad scientist Dr. Nefario, Steve Coogan as AVL head honcho Silas Ramsbottom and Ken Jeong as Floyd Eagle-san, now the owner of a wig store.
Back again to imbue the production with a pleasing visual and aural snap are production designer Yarrow Cheney and on-a-roll Pharrell Williams, whose springy songs blend nicely with Heitor Pereira's bright score.
Those who foolishly opt to leave at the start of the end credits will be missing out on another entertaining 3D demonstration again led by a handful of those wacky Minions. (Michael Rechtshaffen,The Hollywood Reporter)