Less despicable, but still fun

Give the makers of ”Despicable Me 2” credit for not falling into the same lazy pattern of most sequels. The norm is to slavishly follow the formula of what worked the first time. That’s why once-in-a-lifetime misadventures like ”The Hangover” become twice (or thrice)-in-a-lifetime misadventures and why sitcom characters who experience an epiphany or some profound emotional growth at the end of one episode revert back to their old ways the following week. No one wants to tinker with a proven success.

”Despicable Me 2” actually tries to continue, rather than repeat, its story. Gru dreamed of being the world’s greatest villain by stealing the moon in the first movie, only to find his priorities altered when he starts to care about the three orphaned girls he originally saw only as pawns in his plot to steal a death ray from rival bad guy Vector.

For the sequel, Gru doesn’t revert to his old ways (If ”The Hangover” folks made this one, Gru would try to steal the sun). Being a good father is his first priority now, along with facing the headaches that go with having one daughter now old enough to pay attention to boys. Instead of plotting evil, he’s been recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help find a bad guy who has access to PX41, a serum that can turn any living creature into an unstoppable maniac.

And instead of coming up with a lame plot idea to bring back the orphanage owner voiced by Kristen Wiig, they let her play a different character this time, an AVL agent working with Gru and a potential love interest for him.

Those changes keep ”DM2” from feeling like a rehash, but it also doesn’t match the surprising charms of the original.

That macabre, ”Addams Family”-ish style of humor as the audience cheered Gru’s despicableness largely is missing this time, which takes away some of the pleasure for older viewers. The sequel plays primarily to kids, who should be just as thrilled the second time around.

Based on the laughter that filled an advanced screening, kids can’t get enough of the Minions. That makes sense since the Minions are a lot like 6-year-old boys – manic, mischievous and endlessly fascinated by bodily functions. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud fully realize how popular the characters are, and they get plenty of screen time, both in their traditional yellow form and as targets of the PX41 serum.

And they are fun, even for those who are old enough to drive to the theater. And while they seem to owe a debt to the three-eyed green aliens in the ”Toy Story” movies, they have evolved into distinctive characters that could end up being the stars of the franchise in future installments.

Carell still deserves top billing, bringing an endearing awkwardness to Gru as he tries to woo Wiig’s Lucy and fend off dating offers from his neighbors (a single man who likes kids must be in demand, even if he looks like Gru).

Russell Brand is back as Gru’s assistant, Dr. Nefario, although he leaves Gru early on for a new employer – more evil, better medical.

Leading the new voice is Benjamin Bratt and Ken Jeong, business owners who become the leading suspects in the PX41 investigation. That plotline is less memorable than the antics of the Minions, who I would bet will have plenty of chances to be silly and despicable in commercials, spinoffs and future films.