By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features
Gru and his lovable Minions are back in the third installment in Illumination’s “Despicable Me” franchise, simply titled “Despicable Me 3,” and for a film that clocks in at a mere 90 minutes, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (“Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2”) sure do manage to pack in a lot of plot points.
“Despicable Me 3” sees everyone’s favorite villain-turned-member of the Anti-Villain League, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell, “The Office”), lose his job after letting his latest nemesis, Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker, “South Park”), get away once again. A former child star, Balthazar has grown up to become the villainous character he once played on TV in the ’80s and now spends his days trying to bring to life various episodes of the TV series in retaliation for losing his show and his fame.
Being the loyal wife that she is, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”) stands up for Gru and ends up losing her job at the Anti-Villain League, too. With job opportunities slim, Gru discovers he has a long-lost twin brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) who wants to follow in his family’s footsteps (turns out Gru’s estranged dad was also a super villain) and team up with his once villainous brother to cause some chaos. Determined to remain a good guy for his kids’ sake, Gru decides to use the equipment at his wealthy brother’s disposal to track down Balthazar so he can try to retrieve the massive diamond Balthazar recently escaped with. Since Dru isn’t interested in being a hero, however, Gru has to pretend he’s a bad guy once again and go along with his brother’s plan to steal the diamond, even though he fully intends to return it to the Anti-Villain League in hopes of getting his job back.
Eager to go back to villainy themselves, most of Gru’s Minions have since left the unemployed hero’s side, too, and are off on their own adventure throughout most of the film. Add in a couple of other storylines, including the adorable Agnes (now voiced by young Nev Scharrel instead of Elsie Fisher) trying to find a real live unicorn and Lucy desperately trying to connect with her three new step-daughters (who also include the brainy Margo and the mischievous Edith, still voiced by “iCarly” star Miranda Cosgrove and actress Dana Gaier, respectively), and “Despicable Me 3” definitely has more than enough going on to entertain viewers young and old throughout its run time. Yet, the first half of the film sort of drags on.
While “Despicable Me 3” goes back to its roots a bit with the focus of the film being on family and the many different variations of family there can be in someone’s life, the movie isn’t nearly as heartwarming as the first installment in the franchise. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of touching moments between Gru and Agnes, Lucy, Agnes, Edith and Margo, Gru and the Minions and even Gru and Dru, but the film doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch of the first “Despicable Me.”
Comedy-wise, the Minions keep things light throughout the film as always with their various antics, which include a humorous getaway with a makeshift airplane after they get arrested and locked up in prison (which seems a bit extreme for the crime they commit, but that’s another story). Although it’s nice for the Minions to have their own storyline separate from Gru’s, audiences can’t help but miss them whenever they’re not onscreen. Plus, a lot of the Minions’ jokes were already spoiled in the movie’s trailers, so it would have been nice for them to have a bigger presence in the film for some added laughs.
As promising as Balthazar Bratt is as the new antagonist in Gru’s life, considering Parker doesn’t differentiate his voice much from the voice he does for Randy Marsh on “South Park,” it’s a bit hard for fans of the Comedy Central animated series not to think of Stan’s dad every time Balthazar is onscreen. Additionally, while the character’s ’80s shtick is funny at first, older audience members may regard the bit where Gru and Balthazar do yet another dance fight at the end of the film repetitive since they’ve already seen a variation of it at the start of the movie (although the ’80s-inspired soundtrack that plays whenever Balthazar is onscreen, which includes songs by Michael Jackson, a-ha and Madonna, is always fun).
Older fans of the franchise might also find themselves wondering just where exactly all of the action is taking place, as the film jumps locations more times than there are subplots. Even though one scene might take place in France and another scene in Hollywood, California, the various locations in the film never seem to be more than just a quick plane ride away from one another.
Still, even though it may be the weakest entry in Illumination’s flagship animated series, “Despicable Me 3’s” beloved characters are enough to keep viewers entertained for its short duration, and the ending of the film sets up a potential fourth installment in the franchise quite nicely. It’s just a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t get viewers as excited as the possibility of what’s to come.