Several years ago, former Disney animator Broose Johnson mused that computerized animation would lead to increasingly stylized cartoons. He could've been talking about the Despicable Me franchise, a series so visually quirky its characters appear to approximate geometrical shapes as much as the human form. That style hasn't hurt it, though. The first film earned more than a half-billion worldwide, and its 2013 sequel snagged Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song.
So what made the movies so popular? Part of it has to be their sheer wackiness. Both follow the misadventures of a struggling supervillain named Gru who looks vaguely like a follically challenged parrot perched atop a chunk of granite that's in turn balanced on a pair of drinking straws. (No, really, see for yourself.) The franchise starts with Gru having a bevy of knee-high, gibberish-spouting, daffodil-yellow minions to carry out his nefarious will, a string of middling heists on his résumé, and a serious inferiority complex. He fears he's being supplanted by the next generation of bad guys. But a scheme to swipe the moon ends with him stealing the hearts of three orphans—mature Margo, tomboy Edith, and innocent Agnes—and realizing parenthood itself is a prize grander than any planetoid. Fast-forward to the second installment, where Gru has gone legit, turned his subterranean bunker into a jelly factory, and sought to become the best father possible to his three adopted daughters. There's only one thing missing—someone to call mom.
Yep, you guessed it: Despicable Me 2 is unapologetically heteronormative (that one's for all you gender studies majors out there) and filled with worthy themes on love and marriage. From the get-go, it emphasizes that it is not good for man to be alone. When Gru starts tries to organize a medieval-themed birthday party for Agnes, he inflates balloons, erects a near-lethal obstacle course, and mans the grill. But when it gets thrown to him to play a pink-clad fairy princess at the last minute? Well, some tasks are best attempted by members of the opposite sex, and everyone sees it but him. A neighbor decides to set him up with a friend, but Gru will have none of it, which leaves his daughters perplexed. "So when are you going on your date?" Edith asks later. "I'm not going on any date," Gru insists, to which Edith replies, "Why not? Are you scared?" Gru the maniacal mastermind scared? You'd better believe it, because findinglove is terrifying. The mere thought of picking up the phone to ask a woman on a date prompts flashbacks to humiliating childhood attempts at romance. When he actually attempts it later on in the film, his fear of rejection grows so great that he immolates his desk with a flamethrower. A blind date confirms Gru's worse expectations as she belittles his physique, his accent, and the baldness he tries to hide beneath a wretched wig.
The thing is, though, all that fear is worth it because when it comes to the wellbeing of children, no family arrangement can compare with a married mother and father. Gru’s daughters feel this acutely. The theme takes center stage as Agnes robotically practices a Mother's Day soliloquy for school. "I don't think I should do this. ... I don't even have a mom," she worries, which prompts this exchange:
GRU: Well, you don't need one to do the show. I mean, you did the Veterans Day pageant and you haven't been in combat.
AGNES: This is different.
GRU: Okay. Well, then, maybe you can just use your imagination.
AGNES: You mean I pretend I have a mom?
GRU: Yes, right? You can do that, can't you?
AGNES: Yeah! I do that all the time!
You're right, Agnes: It is different. Marriage is about more than personal satisfaction or mutual admiration, although both are worthy-enough goals. It's the engine for creating and raising the next generation, and they have as much at stake in it as we do. That's a lesson Despicable Me 2 imparts with plenty of verve and lots of laughs.Media: