Back in 2010, Universal Pictures' animated film "Despicable Me" seemed like a series of calculated decisions without much heart. A lovable supervillain named Gru (the voice of Steve Carell) provided the high-concept premise, while the cutesy factor came from the three little girls he reluctantly took in. Gru's banana-hued minions provided the toddler-level slapstick while chattering in an alien language that surely made international dubbing easier. The film became a $543 million worldwide hit.
The sequel, "Despicable Me 2," has a lot more heart, or maybe the filmmakers have just gotten smarter. Either way, it's an improvement, largely thanks to Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids"), the voice of a superspy named Lucy Wilde. A loopy, gangly carrot-top with friendly green eyes, she gives this movie a spark of romance and a screwball charm that the original lacked.
But wait -- another kids' movie with a spy theme? That tactic sank "Cars 2" (though I liked it) and made a mess of "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (though everyone else liked it), but it works just fine here. Gru is living comfortably as a single suburban dad to tweenage Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), middle child Edith (Dana Gaier) and wittle Agnes (Elsie Fisher), when he's kidnapped by Lucy, an overambitious, karate-chopping field agent from the Anti-Villain League. (She's a cartoon cousin to Sandra Bullock in "The Heat.") Turns out the AVL needs help capturing an unidentified baddie.
What follows is something between Disney's "The Parent Trap" and the Jackie Chan romp "The Spy Next Door." Gru and Lucy scour a local mall for signs of evil -- hmmm, could that Mexican restaurant owner (Benjamin Bratt) be our suspect? -- while the girls try to turn Lucy into Mommy. It's formulaic and the plot threadbare, but the blush of romance somehow brings out the best in everyone here. Gru becomes more appealing, the girls less cloying and even the minions seem newly inspired.
PLOT Former supervillain Gru, now a suburban dad, is pulled back into the game of good vs. evil.
CAST Voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt
BOTTOM LINE Better, or at least sweeter, than the first, with Wiig adding some much-needed romantic charm to the toddler-level humor.