Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrave, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Julie Andrews
Runtime: 1h 30min
The twist in the first Despicable Me movie, which came out in 2010, was that the hero was a bad guy — a bald, beefy, needle-nosed criminal named Gru with a vaguely Russian accent — who redeemed by three little girls who were so relentlessly adorable that he was eventually ground down to virtue.
It was pretty funny, especially its cast of supporting characters: the Minions, a bunch of quacking yellow medicine capsules who eventually got their own movie that was essentially an hour and a half of mayhem. It was like paying a few bucks to see a four-year-old’s birthday party.
The second Despicable Me movie was less interesting because Gru, having turned into a good guy, had developed a personality that had become distinctly wooly. He was no longer evil; he was more rueful at having lost his evil. Despicable Me 2 would have been a brooding existential classic if the Minions had shut up for five minutes.
Now, in Despicable Me 3, Gru has lost just about all his edge and the series is getting by on pure insanity. It’s not as if the Despicable franchise has run out of steam; indeed, steam is all it has. With a vast (and entertaining) cast of supporting players, Despicable Me 3 is an ode to mayhem: crazy Minions, a new villain who’s a former 1980s child still wearing shoulder pads and a porn film moustache. There’s even a second hero, Gru’s twin brother Dru (both characters voiced by Steve Carell), who is likewise absent a discernable personality except that instead of being bald he has long blond hair.
The result is a collection of the familiar that will probably appeal to younger audiences who have fallen in love with the Minions — and they are pretty lovable, withal — but will disappoint those of us who relished an animated children’s film with the courage to celebrate villainy. Like many franchises entering their third iteration, Despicable Me 3 instead celebrates itself. Love us because we’re back.
As we join Gru, he’s still married to Lucy (Kristen Wiig), his co-worker at the Anti-Villain League, and raising his little girls. But he runs into a new nemesis, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), a former TV star who came to fame in the 1980s with his catchphrase “I’ve been a bad boy,” and hasn’t quite gotten over it. Bratt’s main weapons are a Yo-Yo and exploding chewing gum that flies from his oversized shoulder pads, at least until he builds a giant robot of himself — sort of like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters — to take revenge on Hollywood. It’s a post-modern notion, but it has nothing to be post-modern about so it just floats around, occasionally doing the moonwalk.
Gru and Lucy set out to capture him with the help of Dru, who, despite his financial success, secretly envies Gru’s previous career in crime and thinks they’re all taking part in a heist. Dru and Gru aren’t much of a brother act, but the comic gaps are again filled by the goggle-eyed Minions, who manage to get themselves imprisoned — they take over the jail and intimidate their hulking fellow convicts — and appear on a TV talent show before they rally at the end to help save the day. The Minions (voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) speak in a speeded-up pidgin that combines elements of Latin (“cum” means “with,” I believe) with some suitably silly English words (“papaya” and “Dakota,” for instance) and the odd foreign locution (“ooh-la-la.”)
The animation itself is terrific, but you come out thinking the Despicable Me idea has run its course.