The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 12, 2013

Benji Tunnell: 'Despicable Me' sequel delightful, relieving for parents

By Benji Tunnell
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — If there is one area in which we, as parents, should be extra cautious, it's in children's entertainment. The problem is sorting through all the garbage that is so prevalent today to get to the good stuff.

Kids, as we all know, will watch anything, often regardless of quality. When my sister was younger, she loved the Robin Williams movie "Flubber," a film that was scientifically proven to be so bad that it will actually cause a regression in intelligence.

Though she and her generation seem to have shaken most of the ill effect of films such as this, I believe that the popularity of reality television will show that some of the damage is permanent.

This is why when something genuinely good comes out that's geared toward the younger set, I tend to latch onto it. I feel that my greatest responsibility as a parent, aside from instilling in my girls healthy morals and sound judgment, is to help them cultivate a healthy discernment when it comes to pop culture.

If I do my small part, perhaps the Ashton Kutchers and Black Eyed Peas of the world can be relegated to the roles of fast-food French fry makers and midnight shelf restockers that they are so wholly underqualified for.

This weekend featured another step in the right direction with the opening of "Despicable Me 2."

A sequel to the surprise hit from a few years back, "Despicable" picks up with Gru (Steve Carrell) caring for the young orphans that he adopted at the end of the first movie. He has given up his life of evil to raise the girls, and he, along with his legion of Minions and trusty sidekick Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), has created a successful jam factory.

But when he is drafted into the Anti-Villain League by Lucy (Kristen Wiig), he must combat a powerful super criminal who has stolen a top secret laboratory where a formula is manufactured that can render any creature a mindless indestructible machine, all the while dealing with the struggles of fatherhood.

The first "Despicable" was a touching and funny film, a surprise that showed makers Illumination Entertainment could be a major player in the animation world. The sequel solidifies this.

The worry this time around was that the film would be rushed in order to capitalize on the popularity of the first, and it is to an extent, but not so much as to impact the overall fun of the movie. The plot is just a framework to allow the humor to work, and it does so well. It may not be as good overall, but it is funnier than the already solid original.

The movie also rachets up the Minions, expanding their roles. The filmmakers knew they had breakthrough characters, so they give them far more screen time to carry the humor. I had concerns that something that was very effective in small doses might begin to wear when featured more prominently, but those worries were quickly allayed, so much so that I am now really anticipating the stand alone Minions movie scheduled for next year.

The voice acting is once again excellent. Carrell slides right back in as Gru, and Wiig brings a new energy level as Lucy. The kids are cute as always, and the Minions have some of the funniest, if sometimes garbled, lines.

"Despicable," along with most of the work of the folks at Pixar that doesn't involve the words "Cars 2" in the title, shows that there is hope for parents like me who are working so hard to set their children on the right path of pop culture discernment. If we continue to see quality entertainment like this, it could make for a dark future for Justin Bieber.