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‘Despicable Me 2’: More heart, more laughs, more despicable

When I first saw “Despicable Me” a couple years ago, I loved it for a number of reasons: it was funny, it had heart, it was a film the whole family could enjoy, and more than anything, it was an entirely original concept.

When I learned Illumination Studios planned two follow-ups to its debut film, I got worried. So far, the studio hadn’t suffered a “sophomore slump.” It’s second major release, “Hop” was far better than some critics gave it credit, and the follow-up to that, “The Lorax,” was phenomenal.

But, much the way the desk lamp has become the icon for Pixar, Gru (and, especially, his Minions) has become the icon for Illumination Studios. And streaks are made to be broken.

Forget it, though. “Despicable Me 2” is one of those films that transcends the original. The first film had the disadvantage of having to establish every character and to create the world in which they interact.

The sequel went straight into story — a great story, I might add — and poured on the despicableness, the fun and the heart from the onset. Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul came up with a terrific story, and Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud — who double as the voices of the Minions — found a brilliant way to put it on screen.

It’s been about a year since Gru stole the moon and put it back again, and he’s been trying to make a legitimate name for himself mainly out of his newfound responsibility to his daughters, Margo, Edith and Agnes. But something is missing in his life.

His top henchman, Dr. Nefario, thinks it’s a sense of purpose. His neighbor thinks it’s a love life. The Gru Girls think perhaps it’s a bit of both. “Despicable Me 2” is the story of Gru’s continued self-discovery.

Steve Carell and Russell Brand can read the phone book and make people laugh. Adding Kristen Wiig to the mix just made things that much funnier. Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher and Dana Gaier add the heart as the Gru Girls.

But Benjamin Bratt’s voice performance as Eduardo — jumping in at the last minute when Al Pacino dropped out of the picture — was a real surprise. He may no longer be just low-budget eye candy (for the ladies) in live-action films after this.

Yes, the Minions steal the show. If you weren’t in the loop, the “casting reel” during the first third of the end credits is, indeed, an Easter Egg for next year’s “Minions” movie, set for a mid-December release.

Without giving away spoilers, the Minions have an “All 4 One” scene that will have you in tears before the film is over. And if that doesn’t get you, the Village People scene will.

This is a film you just can’t wait until it comes out on DVD to watch. The Fourth of July is over. You’re hot, you’re tired, but you still want to be entertained. That’s why you need to get out and see “Despicable Me 2.”

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