In this season of sequels, nothing has been more eagerly awaited than the return of Gru and the Minions in Despicable Me 2. But where to go next with a domesticated super villain and his childish yellow henchmen? I asked writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and producer Chris Meledandri what it was like softening Gru around the edges while still staying true to Gru (we'll hear from director Chris Renaud next week).
"The biggest challenge was delivering what fans want, what they think they want, or what they heard they want," quips Paul. "So I think we found the story that allows Gru to go to new emotional places but also to familiar emotional places. Gru's frustration in the first movie was dealing with the girls but now he has a new frustration dealing with Lucy [an agent for the Anti-Villain League].
"For the girls, he's trying to make the best of it making jams and jellies, but he's delighted to be back in the game to catch the super villain," adds Paul. "But we thought it would be fun to watch Gru fall in love for the first time, and since we wanted to work with Kristen Wiig again, who played Miss Hattie in the first film, we came up with Lucy, who's so enthusiastic and quirky and who wears her heart on her sleeve."
A first, though, Paul and Daurio were merely thinking of a foil for Gru, a woman who's his opposite number to get under his skin. But it made sense to make her his first girlfriend and dredge up a lot of emotional issues he's been harboring all of this life.
"She's the most annoying character for Gru but what he most needs in his life," Paul suggests. When she stuns him with her lipstick taser, it's romantic bliss for both of them.
But Despicable Me 2 allowed the writers to inject some of their own frustrations as fathers; namely, keeping boys away from their young daughters with a subplot involving Miranda Cosgrove's Margo dating for the first time.
"We love that scene where clearly Gru's blinded by his hatred of this boy and tries to pin the entire crime wave on this 13-year-old kid and have him arrested," Daurio offers.
"We'd love to freeze their heads and other parts of their body like Gru," Paul continues. "I think a big part of the attraction of Gru is that he gets to do and say a lot of the things we wish we could."
For Meledandri, both Gru and the Minions (who get their own prequel next year) possess great charm for the viewer. "You just happen to like them and it's a great collaboration between the writers and the directors [Pierre Coffin and Renaud] and Steve Carell and the designers and the storyboard artists and the animators."
"Gru is absolutely Steve's alter-ego," adds Daurio, comparing him to Peter Sellers' Clouseau. "He does a great job of disappearing in that role. He's a parent too and brings a lot of his personal experience to it."
However, when it crafting a villain, the writers decided on an alter-ego for Gru. "It came up mainly from the fact that Gru has been feminized by having his three daughters," Paul says. "We wanted to come up with the most macho super villain in the world."
But imagine having to replace the great Al Pacino near the end of his voice gig over creative differences.
"I've been in a couple of situations where the first session just didn't feel comfortable for the actor years ago," admits Meledandri. "But to have a different point of view at such a late stage was something new to me. And we were very fortunate that Benjamin Bratt, who auditioned for the role and we gave serious consideration to, was still really interested in taking on the challenge at this late date. He put in tremendous amounts of time to craft a performance. I can't think of another animated performance at this level where a voice has been replaced in this way. Somehow, between the work that he did and Chris Renaud, who worked directly with him, the part fully belongs to him."
For the writers, the animated family movie has replaced the live action counterpart, now that superhero movies are rated PG-13. "We just write for each other and hope that what makes us laugh will make other people laugh," Daurio concludes.
Meanwhile, they're already concocting ideas for Despicable Me 3.
Animation Scoop Contributing Editor Bill Desowitz is owner of Immersed in Movies and a regular contributor to Indiewire's Thompson on Hollywood.