Illumination Entertainment has built a cash machine with the Despicable Me franchise, maintaining a rhythm to the releases since its 2010 debut. Although it’s been four years since Despicable Me 2, Illumination didn’t let the brand name wither, unleashing the spin-off, Minions, in 2015, which racked up over a billion dollars worldwide.
Now it’s time for Despicable Me to prove itself once again—and it’s the finest installment in the series yet, wisely bringing in Trey Parker to energize the picture as Gru’s latest nemesis.
Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment
Despicable Me 3 wisely brings in Trey Parker, and ditches the dramatic spike strips that plagued the first two films.
Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) is a demented ex-child actor who can’t get past the 1980s, successfully executing a diamond heist. Racing to save the day is Gru (Steve Carell) and his wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), but the former bad guy’s efforts to retrieve the jewel prove problematic, and he’s soon fired from the Anti-Villain League.
While Bratt returns to his fortress to plan his Hollywood comeback, Gru is left unemployed, tending to the needs of his daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). Learning that he has a twin brother, Gru travels to Fredonia to meet Dru (Carell), a filthy rich pig farmer who hopes Gru will teach him the family business, tempting his sibling back into crime.
With the Minions abandoning Gru due to his softness, the once mighty scoundrel decides to take on Dru and plan an attack against Bratt, while Lucy deals with the pressures of parenthood.
Despicable Me 3 isn’t going to win any awards for originality. There’s Gru’s domestic anxiety, the Minions and their fart gun, flashy ships and weapons, and mischief from the kids.
The big difference here is Bratt, who emerges as the franchise’s best villain. Parker leans into his performance as a bitter, delusional former child actor who once ruled television as “Total Bratt,” a pint-sized threat to the world.
Now he’s older, balding, and thirsting for revenge on those who kicked him out of the industry, but he’s still stuck in the ’80s, rocking shoulder pads and wielding a weaponized keytar, using reruns of his show to inspire his rage. He’s the first baddie to compete with the elastic world of Despicable Me, offering dangerous dance-offs, scoring his antics to a mix tape, and utilizing a special bubble gum that lifts ships and buildings into the sky.
However, there isn’t enough Bratt to satisfy. The screenplay by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio is careful to spread screen time around to all the participants, only leaving out Gru’s gadget man, Dr. Nefario, who’s trapped in carbonite.
There are quite a few subplots to manage, including Margo’s inadvertent acceptance of a cheese-based wedding proposal; Agnes seeking out unicorns in Dru’s backyard; Lucy’s trouble adjusting to motherhood; the Minions finding themselves sent to prison and learning to run the joint from inside; and Gru confronting his family history in Dru, who has the hair and ambition to become a villain, but doesn’t have the training.
Instead of launching a major story, Despicable Me 3 relies on small bites of narrative, which tends to throttle the more interesting tale (the unicorn hunt is the most superfluous addition), but the hijinks remain engaging. Carell has a ball playing twins, communicating Gru’s frustrations with domesticity and Dru’s deceptive innocence and stupidity.
The Minions are pushed to the background, but their Spanglish-speaking, bouncy ways emerge whenever the picture needs a hit of the odd or crude. This sequel wisely remains with the human-ish characters, becoming something of a kaiju movie in its climax, but keeping destruction on the short side to pay more attention to Bratt’s wild-eyed hubris and Gru’s babysitting time with Dru.
Despicable Me 3 is funny and swiftly paced, and its familiarity allows the filmmakers to ditch the dramatic spike strips that plagued the first two efforts. More “totally radical” than radical keeps it breezy for fans, which is a welcome development.