The minions are back. The little yellow torpedoes warmed hearts when they shuffled into 2010’s animated hit “Despicable Me” with the bounciness of a beach ball, the elasticity of a rubber band and a vernacular composed mostly of giggles. Once again, they manage to tickle moviegoers big and small in the way only cat videos usually do, and they very nearly run off with the sequel, “Despicable Me 2.” But the sweet story holds its own.
The Russian-accented Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a very different villain than when we last saw him. He has traded in a life of crime, including moon thievery and other high jinks, for a more sedate occupation. Gru, his accomplice Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and the minions now spend their days making jam, and Gru passes his evenings taking care of his adopted trio of daughters, Margo, Edith and Agnes. His biggest stressors are planning Agnes’s birthday party and coming to grips with Margo’s interest in boys.
But this homey existence is shaken when agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League drops in with a lipstick taser and a plan to recruit the reformed bad guy. It seems that an under-the-radar supervillain has used a giant magnet to make off with an entire laboratory that housed a gooey substance capable of transforming people, animals and minions into purple snaggletoothed monsters that eat everything in sight.
The league has tracked the supervillain to a mall, and they need Gru to embed himself deep within the concrete jungle to discern which of the store owners is responsible. Gru agrees to take on the gig, although he’s hardly thrilled to be joined by Lucy as his new partner.
The identity of the villain isn’t much of a mystery — there are only two real possibilities, a wig shop owner and the proprietor of a Tex-Mex restaurant — but other story lines round out the narrative, including Gru’s romantic interest in Lucy, Margo’s crush on a possible supervillain’s son and a minion-napper who is making off with Gru’s worker bees at an alarming rate.
“Despicable Me 2” is a tamer movie than its predecessor, which may irk some of that movie’s fans. A better title might be “Delightful Me,” given that Gru is entirely devoted to his kids and seems disinclined to revisit his former profession. People change. Expecting Gru to be the same abominable shadow-dweller is like assuming close friends will still want to go out every night once they’ve gotten married and moved to the suburbs.
Then again, Gru doesn’t shed all of his former tendencies. He’s still an unassuming action hero, with impressive moves for a man built like a barrel balancing atop chopsticks. He just tends to laugh less maniacally between action sequences.
Some of those lively operations should provide a bit of nail-biting, especially for little ones. But there’s plenty of fun music to buoy the mood, thanks to original tunes from Pharrell Williams. And the animation is beguiling, particularly when Lucy drives her car into the ocean, transforming it into a submarine that scoots around sharks and fish.
There’s no need, however, to spend extra cash on the 3-D version. The glasses don’t add much allure, with one exception: During the final credits, as in the original film, the minions try to reach out from the screen as far as they can. That was the first time the technology elicited “ooohs” from the audience. The thought of being so close to those adorable wee beings was too much to silently bear. Luckily there’s more where that came from. A “Despicable Me” spinoff, “Minions,” is set for a 2014 release.
(98 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for rude humor and mild action.