Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Review first published by Film4.

Daddy rules

Synopsis: Despicable Me‘s original voice-cast and crew reunite for a second madcap clash of fiendishness and family.

Review: 2D or 3D? If this is a dilemma that practically all Hollywood animations present to cash-strapped families, it is not always the only choice that such films offer between shallows and depth. For as well as being a diversion from the day-to-day, they are also repositories of (sometimes insidious) ideology, inculcated through a seductive package of bright colours and fart gags.

There are, for example, two ways you can look at Despicable Me 2. On the one hand, the same creative team that made the original doesn’t try to fix a family-fun formula that was never broken, marrying suburban gothic to gadget-filled espionage antics (think The Addams Family meets The Incredibles), and milking the scene-stealing Minions (this franchise’s cuter, crazier Scrat) for all they’re worth. It is fast and funny, with a chaotic sense of the absurd.

On the other hand, while protagonist Gru (Steve Carell) may be an ex-supervillain turned doting family man, his new-found paternal instincts represent a clinging, controlling, fascistic brand of despicable patriarchy that the film itself oddly endorses. “Never get older,” Gru tells his youngest daughter Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), while warning the older Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) off boys her own age, lest she should leave the fold and become, gulp, an autonomous individual beyond the reach of daddy’s power.

Gru’s weapon of choice – a freeze gun – is emblematic of his desire to stop time and arrest growth; and far from letting Gru learn to let go, the film proves his suspicion of boys (“they stink”) entirely correct, leaving Gru’s three adopted, adoring daughters existing only to affirm his centrality. So while it may be ‘just a film for kids’, Despicable Me 2‘s particular wish-fulfilment fantasy seems aimed squarely at insecure, conservative fathers.

In A Nutshell: The clue is in the title’s second word: for all its surreal laughs and madcap mayhem, Despicable Me 2‘s family values are all about daddy.

Anton Bitel