Cinematic Releases: Despicable Me 3 (2017) - Reviewed

What’s really fantastic about Illumination / Universal’s Despicable Me franchise is that, through three movies and a spinoff film for its little yellow Minions characters, it has managed to retain both its sense of silliness and its cartoony suspense. The third installment of the main franchise, creatively titled Despicable Me 3, is a continuation of its tightly webbed storylines – which it presents without too much muddling and some very fine voice acting. If taken for what it is – an amusing, humorous family film without a lot of philosophical or emotional baggage – it will satisfy fans new and old of reformed villain-turned-secret agent Gru, his wacky and sweet family, and his goofy Minion pals.

Much of the comedy in Despicable Me 3 is very physical, relying on the studio’s use of wonderfully caricatured people (and its Twinkie-like Minions) and backing itself up with gags incorporating everything from 1980s one-hit wonders to, of all things, prison culture. It wisely refrains from overusing the Minions, whose explosive popularity has made them somewhat overexposed – but they still get their own miniature story arc when their leader, Mel, decides they should all quit Gru’s employ when he and his wife Lucy are terminated from their jobs as secret agents with the Anti-Villain League and he refuses to return to evil.

The real star of the film is its villain, Balthazar Bratt – voiced by South Park’s Trey Parker with an uncanny reminiscence to what Randy Marsh might sound like if he went evil – an embittered child star grown up with a grudge against Tinsel Town for his rejection at puberty. Bratt is a delightful cartoon bad guy themed around the ‘80s, complete with self-expanding bright pink bubblegum, Rubik’s cube bombs, moonwalking dance-fight moves and bald-spot mullet, and he relishes his diabolic diamond-stealing, giant robot plans to laser Hollywood from the ground and shoot into outer space with sneering catchphrases. But he’s not the only one with designs on evil plots, as Gru discovers he has a long-lost twin brother, Drew – and their father, unbeknownst to Gru, was an evil mastermind, whose legacy his twin longs to take over. Throughout all this, little Agnes seeks to discover a real-live unicorn, and Lucy struggles to make a connection as the girls’ new mother, adding a little trademark heart to the comic scenes of the Minions looking for work and ending up crashing an American Idol-style talent competition and being sent to prison. The movie balances all of these disparate storylines well, and even manages to tie them together in the kind of unexpected and funny ways the series is known for.

Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig reprise their roles as Gru and Lucy, proving themselves yet again a winning and engaging pair; the characters play off of one another and their situations so easily, it’s natural to root for them whether on the side of good or evil. Despicable Me has always played around with the idea of moral absolutes when it comes to heroes and villains, grounding its characters in the relationships they have with one another and the ways in which everything comes down to family, love, and loyalty. From its colorful designs to its charming characterizations and storylines, this film is a far better “threequel” than its Pixar contemporary, Cars 3 – even its most minor characters are engaging and memorable, and it manages to juggle several appealing B stories underneath the main conflict between Gru and Bratt, who are both so desperate to regain past glories that they’ll do almost anything to succeed. It manages to be heartfelt without succumbing to sugary sentimentality, and much like the previous films in the franchise, is rife with good-natured laughs for the whole family to enjoy. The designs of the vehicles, weapons and lairs are just plain fun, and the characters prove that, even three films in, they can still hold an audience’s attention without too much lag in the action. Even at its most pensive, Despicable Me 3 keeps a lighthearted pace, and those who have enjoyed the other films that preceded it will likely find much to stick around for.

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-Dana Culling