Directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Written by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate and Julie Andrews
Runtime: 90 minutes
Very often, sequels fail to retain the charm that made the original film successful. Second sequels are normally a cash grab. Not so with the Despicable Me series, which now produces its third part (separate from the Minions spin-off film) and for the first time in a long time, a series holds up. Sure, it’s not as good as the original, but it’s still really entertaining and ultimately that’s what we want from these characters. There’s growth and understanding, not as much as in the first two, but it’s there. There is a fun villain, but the overall story feels a little worn. That’s to be expected, really, and the whole thing is so entertaining, it’s hard to begrudge the relative unoriginality.
During Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristin Wiig)’s most recent Anti-Villain League (AVL) mission to attempt to capture child TV star turned villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru manages to retrieve the stolen object (world’s biggest diamond) but fails to capture Bratt, who apparently always escapes. Gru is fired by the new head of the AVL and Lucy says if he’s fired, they have to fire her too (as they are married, which happened at the end of DM2). Which they do. Jobless, Gru is approached by Fritz (Steve Coogan, who also voiced the now retired head of the AVL Silas Ramsbottom in 2 and earlier in this film), the butler to Dru, Gru’s twin brother whom he didn’t know he had (also voiced by Steve Carell). His mother (Julie Andrews, returning after being absent in the second one) confirms that she and their father divorced shortly after the twins were born, each taking one to raise and vowing never to disclose the existence of the other twin or that the other parent was still alive. During all this, the minions, led by Mel (all the minions are voiced by director Pierre Coffin) decide that if Gru isn’t going to be evil anymore, they’re leaving. Minions Dave and Jerry, who were not in the lab at the time of the ‘uprising’ are then ‘promoted’ by Gru as they are the only two left in his employ. Gru accepts Dru’s invitation only to learn their father was a villain too and Dru wants Gru to help him continue in the family tradition. Gru is tempted, but uses the tech and Dru for his own plan.
Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (both of whom wrote the previous two films as well as the disappointing The Secret Life of Pets and the upcoming Minions 2) don’t really have a lot to work with, story wise. The basic plot is the same as it was in the other two movies: Gru needs to steal something from a villain to do what he has planned. It’s like a song with only a chorus. The real work gets done with the characters, primarily Gru and Lucy. Gru is learning to accept his brother, and accept the fact that his mother kept this secret from him his whole life and Lucy is struggling to be a parent to Margot (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel, taking over for Elsie Fisher who has apparently aged out of her Agnes voice). One of the strengths of the series is how it realistically deals with life as a new or single parent. The first one saw Gru opening his heart to these three orphans, the second saw him as an amazing father that awkwardly puts himself out in the dating field to find his girls a mother and finding one, and this one sees Lucy trying to adapt to her new life and the girls trying to adapt to her being there. It’s true that the girls accepted Lucy in the second film, but liking her and considering her their mother are two different things. This cannily illustrates how difficult it must be to step into a world you know nothing about and have to be great at it from the start (which is parenting in a nutshell, and no one is ever great at the start and many never become it throughout their children’s entire lives). Another wise move made by Paul and Daurio is that they moved the minions back to the side. I love those little guys, but after them pretty much taking over the show in DM2 and having their own movie, not focusing on them in this helped preserve their charm and humor without overloading us (which is smart considering Minions 2 is due in 2020). Their subplot about leaving Gru and ending up in prison is very funny and used sparingly so the main plot doesn’t weigh down the picture.
Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (with co-director Eric Guillon) have gone above and beyond the look of the previous two films and create a visual palate as entertaining as the aural one. The animation team at Illumination are great at intriguing villain strongholds and Bratt’s is no exception. They keep things interesting even when the story flags and feels repetitive by pacing everything quickly and never dwelling on much for too long. They trust the audience to keep up and rarely spell things out for everyone.
Despicable Me 3 is, by far, the weakest entry in the series. The best parts of the film deal with real-world issues like parenting and adjustment to new situations and the blandest parts are the copies of the previous films. Hopefully the repetitive story elements (and songs) will be ironed out and moved past if they go for a fourth and if not, we’ll just get the same cookie-cutter plot with new aspects of Gru’s family life layered on top of it and it’ll probably be funny and occasionally touching, just like this one.