There will be hits and misses at movie houses this summer, but it's a decent bet Despicable Me 2 will end up in the that-went-well column.
The star, a would-be world-dominating supervillain named Gru, is a hulking, blustering figure with an appetite for mayhem — and a surprising soft spot. He'll boast that he's about to pull off "the crime of the century," then sit down to read his little girls — he's recently, reluctantly, adopted three of them, and they're adorable — a bedtime story.
Physically, Gru is quite a spectacle. He's got the body of Herman Munster and the bald head of a Bond villain; his gigantic torso is supported by skinny little legs, and he's got bug eyes and a long, banana-shaped nose. The animators must have had a field day with him.
Steve Carell, who voices Gru, told NPR in 2010 that when he was developing the character, he just felt he needed an accent.
"I couldn't really tell what sort of accent. And I don't think anybody can actually determine what accent I'm doing in the movie — which was by choice, of course," Carell says.
But Gru sounds like he might be Russian, another tip of the hat to those old Bond villains.
Despicable Me writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio say Gru is something of a personal fantasy.
"Gru, as we conceived him, is basically the guy who does everything we wish we could do but can't. He's the guy who will freeze everybody in line at the Starbucks" so he can get his coffee faster, Paul says.
Daurio and Paul talk about Gru as if he's their child — or their alter ego. They've written out Gru's entire life story, including his rough childhood.
"It's rare that you get to see the villain's back story as we've gotten to see Gru as a little kid and his horrible mom," Daurio says.
Gru has flashbacks. In the original film, we see him as a little boy in a pretend spacesuit, trying to impress his mom with a picture of him landing on the moon. She just sneers. In Despicable Me 2, he remembers being teased on the playground when he tried to give flowers to a girl.
Gru's revenge? Supervillainy.
"With gadgets and weapons and cool cars — the whole deal," a delighted Gru says. (There's Bond again.) Daurio and Paul, both huge 007 fans, say Gru's assistant, Dr. Nefario, is inspired by Bond's gadget wizard, Q.
"And Dr. Nefario is getting on in years, so he may have not heard you right," says Daurio. So when Gru asks him to make a dart gun, Dr. Nefario makes a fart gun.
Between the scatological humor and the Bond-style gadgets and weapons, says Guardian film columnist Ben Child, the Despicable Me filmmakers have knocked it out of the ballpark once again.
"It's extremely hard to do a sequel that's as good as the original," says Child, "and this one actually did just have me literally crying tears of laughter at certain points."
In Me 2, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League, a sort of secret FBI. He's a single father now, so he's had to give up his life of crime for tea parties and playing princess. Daurio and Paul both have daughters, and they wrote those scenes from personal experience.
"Ultimately the story of Gru is the story of all men who are villains until they become dads," Paul says.