Love it or hate it, the “Despicable Me” franchise is still going strong with Gru and the divisive minions still on board for the ride. The third entry in the main franchise for Illumination Entertainment continues to provide charm and fun for the young and young at heart and surprisingly proves to be a superior film in the core “Despicable Me” trilogy, with the final product being more fun and balanced than the second film and more colorful and memorable than the movie that started the craze back in 2010.
“Despicable Me 3” picks up after Gru, played by Steve Carell, and Lucy, played by Kristen Wiig, have gotten married and are now full-time agents for the Anti-Villain League, a.k.a. the AVL. After the two attempt to put a stop to a plan by childhood actor turned real villain Balthazar Bratt, played by Trey Parker, to steal a massive diamond, the duo succeed in saving the gem, but fail to capture Bratt himself for the umpteenth time. The numerous failures to nab Bratt lead to the duo getting fired and, coincidently enough, this just happens to be when Gru’s long lost brother Dru, also played by Steve Carell, reaches out to connect with his twi. Dru attempts to get Gru back into the family tradition of villainy. After Bratt reclaims the massive diamond Gru devises a plan to work with his brother to steal the diamond back and put an end to Bratt’s villainy once and for all.
I’ll be up front is saying that this franchise is not among my favorites. I felt the first two films were MAYBE just okay and that the “Minions” standalone project, a prequel to the actual franchise films, was overrated at best. However, “Despicable Me 3” actually proves to be quite an entertaining animated comedy and a series standout. To get the easy critique out of the way first the voice acting is spot on, as usual. Steve Carell brings back the same sarcasm and charm of Gru that littered the first two films and even creates a totally different character in Gru’s brother Dru, who turns out to be more flamboyant and excitable than his darker brother. Kristin Wigg fits nicely into the cast and even Gru’s adopted daughters, played by Miranda Cosgrove, Nev Scharrel, and Dana Gaier, are well portrayed as their characters continue to grow. The show stealer however is Trey Parker who brings 80s-themed villain Balthazar Bratt to life. Bratt is a hilariously defined villain, and one who ironically turned to villainy after playing a villain as a child. Parker’s approach to the goofy bad guy is infectious and honestly Bratt is the standout big-baddy of the entire series, topping any villain before him for sheer memorability alone.
What I liked about this film was that it managed to include not only a B story, but a C story, and a D story, and yet it all felt very cohesive. You had Gru bonding with his brother, Lucy trying to prove she can be a good mother to the three girls, Agnes searching out a real life unicorn, and the minions who went on strike against Gru and find themselves on their own misadventure. Enough time is spent on each of these stories to give context and significance to their inclusion in the film and in the end they all come together to a climax of epic proportions as Bratt’s plan comes to fruition. What could have been a very confusing and muddled film with too much going actually flows quite well from story to story and scene to scene, wrapping things up nicely by the end.
I know it’s probably a crappy thing to grade the movie on but thankfully the film also finds a balance with its character focus. “Despicable Me” focused a lot on the goofy Gru, and the second film focused a bit too much on the minions having more screen time, but this third film finally finds the balance this series has needed with the minions and Gru, and Dru, and the girls and Lucy all getting fair screen time without any one character or group overpowering the other. Thankfully the core of the film is still Gru and his conflict with Bratt, with the minions being relegated back to the side characters they really are. This actually helps the film become something adults and children can appreciate equally, rather than a feature length advertisement to sell toys and merchandise.
While I enjoyed the films different stories and flow, there was just still something missing in “Despicable Me 3”. I wouldn’t call this film formulaic, but I do feel like to some extent the filmmakers rested on their laurels here. While it is, in my personal opinion, a far superior film to some of the previous movies in the franchise, it still feels like this series is lacking a bit of life. I can say this movie is a step in the right direction because it polished a lot of the issues the previous projects had and that’s a start, but in many ways it is the same old story: Gru battles a fellow villain with a crazy theme, the minions have a moment in the spotlight, and the kids provide a few insightful moments about parenting while obsessing over candy, fun, and unicorns. While the film is very enjoyable it just doesn’t provide enough unique qualities to shine the way it wants to.
“Despicable Me 3” may not be exactly what it needs to be, but it’s enough to keep this franchise alive and make up for some of the faults of previous films. It would be hard to justify this as one of the best third films in a franchise ever, but I’d go so far as to say this is the best film so far of any of the “Despicable Me” movies, including the “Minions” spinoff. It’s balanced, it’s focused, it’s fun, and it’s beautifully animated and manages to build on the characters we already know properly. It might lean on the same tired format a bit, but even then it seems that third time is the charm for this series because while we’ve seen this all play out in the past, it plays out here better than it ever did before and honestly, for the first time, leaves me intrigued to see what this seemingly endless series has to offer in its inevitable fourth installment.