Review: ‘Despicable Me 3,’ starring Steve Carell

by Andrew Parker

After a side story telling the origin of the now ubiquitous, gibberish babbling yellow Minions, Despicable Me 3 goes back to the story of a reformed supervillain and his new wife navigating the waters of parenthood while trying to save the world. While Despicable Me 3 doesn’t aim as high as its two proper predecessors in the narrative or emotional departments, it’s still a lightweight bit of fun that the 3 to 8 demographic will lap up happily and adults will get a few hearty chuckles on the side.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his partner-slash-wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) find themselves fired from their jobs at the Anti Villain League by their new boss (Jenny Slate) after stopping Balthazar Bratt (South Park co-creator Trey Parker), a fallen from grace 1980s child star turned supervillain,  from stealing an enormous diamond, but failing to bring the criminal into custody. The firing leaves Gru’s young charges – eldest and most responsible Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), troublemaking Edith (Dana Gaier), and youngest Agnes (Nev Scharrel, replacing Elsie Fisher) – wondering about their family’s future. In a fortuitous and convenient twist of events, Gru discovers that he has a twin brother, Dru (also Carell), a blonde haired, boisterous, childish doppleganger, who requests his sibling’s help in taking over the secret family business of villainy. The skeptical former villain reluctantly agrees to teach the dimwitted Dru the ropes, but only so he can steal back the diamond Bratt eventually stole after Gru and Lucy got fired and return it to the AVL in hopes of getting his above board job back.

Pushing the profitable Minions somewhere into the background after most of them abandon Gru in a huff early in the film, Despicable Me 3 wisely returns to the charming family dynamic that made the first two films such a delight. This time, however, instead of settling on a solid story to build around the family, returning screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul create a loose fitting, relaxed, and playful series of skits built around a wafer thin, obvious plot that feels more like an episode of The Simpsons than a summer tentpole. Every character has something specific to do – which makes it an improvement in some ways over the second film, which forgot about half the family members – but each feels like a subplot that isn’t going to go anywhere or link back to the main plot.

Gru and Dru have their own story, and it’s fine enough, if somewhat underdeveloped and rushed. Lucy has to learn to not coddle the younger children and be less harsh on Margo. Margo accidentally gets engaged to a weirdo kid in some sort of bizarre, borderline inappropriate gypsy-ish ritual that Lucy forced her into doing. Agnes and Edith go off into the woods to find a real unicorn that may or may not exist. The Minions get tossed into prison and start a gang after accidentally taking over a reality television show. These stories rarely overlap, but at least they all come full circle, and each of them are fun and cute in their own respect without wearing out their welcome.

The jokes throughout directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin and co-director Eric Guillon’s third franchise effort have been carefully crafted to appeal to the widest range of ages possible. Outside of a lot of references to 80s music, awful fashions, and fads via it’s Hall and Oates looking villain and some bawdy references that I’m amazed no one at the MPAA picked up on, the gags are all designed to be colourful, silly, clean, and easy to comprehend. The writing and direction are as laid back as possible, and the cast matches the “we’re just happy to be here” tone of the film as a whole, save for Parker who is really making an effort to create the goofiest 80s cliché possible. If you like fart gags, obvious pop music cues, sight gags involving terrible disguises, or any number of previously established rib tickling ideas tried and tested in other films before making their way to Despicable Me 3, you’ll find something to giggle at here even if you find yourself remarking about how unambitious it all is.

Adults who also find the Minions to be either “a bit much” or “incredibly annoying” will be pleased to hear that only a handful of sequences are built around the banana loving, goggle and overall wearing merchandise movers. It’s just unfortunate that after two films where the Minions have taken centre stage that the filmmakers at Illumination have forgotten how to handle their human characters. Admittedly, there has to be millions more toddlers and tykes willing to beg their parents for Minion swag instead of Gru and Lucy dolls (although a fair amount probably also want Agnes fluffy unicorn), so from a cynical marketing standpoint it makes sense that the last two films focused on those creatures. Artistically speaking, Despicable Me 3 tries valiantly and admirably to get away from that marketing mandate, but has only moderate, fleeting success.

Still, I laughed at a good deal of the jokes thanks to how they’re delivered by the artists and voice actors, and despite knowing that none of the jokes were particularly original. Also, the closing credits gave me the Trey Parker and Pharrell Williams collaboration I never knew I wanted. I’m not made of stone, guys. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to please me. Despicable Me 3 isn’t very much, but it did please me.

Despicable Me 3 opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, June 30, 2017.

Check out the trailer for Despicable Me 3:

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