Gru, the lead character of Despicable Me 2
, is the sort of megalomaniacal evildoer bound to risk everything on grandiose schemes destined to fail spectacularly. Steve Carell, fittingly, blesses him with richly textured, endlessly inventive vocal embellishments, cultivating every last nuance of long suffering from the character. But the joke rings somewhat hollow when anti-villain Gru’s ambitions have been reduced from stealing the moon to caring tenderly for three adopted daughters amid the wilds of suburbia. This sequel to 2010's blockbuster adds Kristen Wiig as high-spirited love interest and expands the animated repertoire to encompass 3-D thrills, but the story itself, which shoehorns Gru into the service of a global super-spy league for the flimsiest of reasons, arrives packed with exposition and shorn of coherency while allowing precisely no opportunities for expression of the dastardly hubris that named the franchise. Gags either pander to the target audience’s fart-joke triggers or inanely reference past cartoons—allusions to Carmen Miranda’s fruit-topped headwear evidently still forced upon children no longer familiar with old movies or South American-themed floor shows (or perhaps even fruit)—without any trace of genuine wit or verve. The one bright spot is the the slapstick camaraderie of Gru’s minions. All unblinking eye and bristling energy, there’s an anarchic zest to their headlong confusion that happily overwhelms each scene. As importantly, only when commanding those little yellow creatures does Gru truly reclaim his voice.