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‘Despicable Me 3’ (review)

Produced by Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
Written by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Based on Characters by Sergio Pablos
Directed by Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Starring Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig,
Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove,
Julie Andrews,  Dana Gaier,
Nev Scharrel, Russell Brand

As an adult, how many times have you sat through a seemingly endless children’s movie when killing time with a little one who was on the edge of their seat while you struggled to stay awake in yours?   While Despicable Me 3 may start slowly and leave you discreetly checking your watch, by the halfway point you will be engaged in jokes and winks that are designed to engage the 80s-aware adult in tow.

In this third outing, Gru (Steve Carell) finds out he has a twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell) shortly after suffering a career-ending snafu chasing the Anti-Villain League’s #1 Most Wanted, a bitter ex-child actor from the 80s named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker).

As Gru and Dru explore their new relationship, Lucy (Kristen Wiig) struggles in her new role as “mom” to Gru’s three adopted daughters. When the opportunity arises to get back everything they lost, Gru must balance his desire to be on top with his responsibility to family old and new.

The first and second movies in the Despicable Me franchise were fun out of the gate. Audiences are used to bright and funny opening sequences heavily featuring antics from the Minions and poking fun at Gru’s grumpy but ultimately successful persona. Yet it took roughly one third of the movie to start feeling engaged in the story due to phoned-in lines that never actually earned the humor they meant to generate.

Everything seemed heavier and formulaic, which was a letdown for such a quirky series. Though there were a few early giggles from the many children in the screening, it was at least 20 minutes before the deep continued laughter from an adult came through. That said, the story arc of a secret twin brother that acts as foil to Gru (Dru is cheerful, wealthy, and well-coiffed) turns out much fresher than one would think.

Having Steve Carell voice both characters was masterful, as he created two distinct personas that were equally enjoyable. Even while Dru whined about the effort required to pull off a truly masterful caper, he was still fun and relatable.

Carell’s Gru is always a treat, the straight man to the strange and wonderful life he lives. Kristen Wiig does a serviceable job with Lucy and any of the lackluster feeling about the character is more reflective of awkward writing than her actual voicework. Her story seems more of an afterthought, as if the writers were 75% through with the story and then doubled back to give her a bit more agency.

The best performance, however, is a three way tie between the Minions, Trey Parker’s Balthazar, and the ever-loveable Agnes (Nev Scharrel). From the endearing and heartfelt innocence of Agnes as she searches for a rumored real unicorn to the always zany antics of the Minions, whose speech is cleverly peppered with words and phrases older ears will catch and chuckle at, they both do significant work to bring humor and heart while bridging scenes. Parker is pure joy as Balthazar, a villain stuck in the 80s from his shoulder-padded costume to his keytar sonic gun. The animation and attention to detail on both character and catchphrases shows a team that had as much fun creating as the audience will have watching and listening.

The soundtrack is another hit for the series, featuring everything from new music from Pharrell to classic 80s tracks from Madonna, Michael Jackson, and a-ha. And of course, a number from the Minions.

While there is nothing terribly new or novel about the third movie, it is comforting and entertaining fare that anyone will enjoy if they are already a fan of the series. Rare is the need to reinvent the wheel for a kid’s franchise so soon, especially with such a quick succession of movies (let’s just leave the independent Minions out of this). Take that niece/son/kid down the street to the theater this weekend, and they’ll thank you for it.

And eventually, you’ll have a quick laugh too.


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