Gru and the Minions are back in the third installment of Illumination’s popular franchise.
Repeating a formula that worked like gangbusters in the last installment, which became the most profitable film in Universal history, Despicable Me 3 offers up more of the same: more Gru — actually Gru times two if you count his twin brother, Dru; more Minions (though thankfully less than in their own exhausting 2015 spinoff); more Looney Tunes-esque sight gags; more pop-culture references, with an emphasis on the 1980s this time; and more catchy Pharrell Williams songs on the soundtrack.
It’s an if-it-ain’t-broke-then-don’t-fix-it approach that works just fine if you’re simply looking to take another ride on the rollercoaster, with Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig returning to voice a pair of lovey-dovey superspy parents out to rid the world of evil yet again. Indeed, the original film’s enticing premise, about a bad guy who can’t help turning good, has been somewhat forgotten, even if series creator Pierre Coffin (working here with Kyle Balda and co-director Eric Guillon) tries to insert a bit of pathos and family matters into the action. Otherwise, this rather clever, breakneck-paced cartoon gives fans exactly what they want: Like the new nemesis voiced by Trey Parker, it shoots multiple machine-gun bursts of bubblegum at the audience, asking them to chew and enjoy. Expect them to do so when the film hits theaters June 30.
When we last left Gru (Carell) and Lucy (Wiig), they had forged a happy home with the three girls (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel) the big bad softee wound up with in the first movie. When this one starts, their livelihood is quickly threatened when their Anti-Villain League’s new boss (Jenny Slate) fires the couple after they fail to apprehend an arch villain named Balthazar Bratt (Parker) — a former ‘80s child TV star who has gone all Diff'rent Strokes and turned to a life of crime.
The opening reel offers up a slew of Tex Avery-style stunts, music cues ranging from Michael Jackson to Van Halen to A-ha, and enough of the Minions to keep the kids happy. There’s a lot thrown at the screen at once, yet Carell and Wiig manage to anchor the action with characters that can seem both outlandish and emotionally real, trying to keep their couple afloat amid the chaos that surrounds them.
Coffin and his fellow directors — working with returning scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio — keep several balls in the air at once, kicking off the second act by introducing Dru (Carell again, though with a less pronounced Slavic accent), a long-lost twin brother who seems to be everything Gru isn’t, all the way down to a swath of blond hair that Donald Trump could only dream of implanting. But things are not necessarily what they seem, and the brotherly love turns into something else as we learn more about Gru’s family history, including a brief cameo from his mother (Julie Andrews), who looks like she’s caught in a pool scene from a softcore Italian porno.
There are plenty of other outlandish jokes here, such as a French character that's a spitting image of Gerard Depardieu, a rather outré depiction of a fictional European island (whose inhabitants include lots of cheese-eating kids, a bunch of drunks and a somewhat offensively rendered woman with major facial hair) and, in what may be the film’s piece de resistance, two laugh-out-loud Minion sketches: one that may be a direct reference to the song-and-dance number in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and a prison sequence scored to Pharrell’s hit “Freedom.”
The filmmakers seem to be having a blast, sometimes at our expense but most of the time in a lively and bonkers enough way that forces you to clap along (to quote Pharrell’s hit from the last movie). With a running time of only 96 minutes, not including credits for all 550 crew members, the pacing is so fast that there’s barely room to breathe — although Coffin puts just enough emphasis on Gru’s “issues” and just enough throwaway gags (cue up another Minion) to keep the movie grounded.
Things of course wind up leading to a big-bang final battle where the notion of Hollywood excess literally comes home to roost. One could perhaps see such an ending as a form of industry self-mockery in the way that, say, the Lego movies like to poke fun at their own existence. But the Despicable Me franchise, which has grossed $1.5 billion and counting thus far, hardly needs to look deep into its soul for further meaning. It has its recipe perfectly down pat by now, and with further installments likely on the horizon, it only asks that we laugh with it all the way to the bank.