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FILM REVIEW: DESPICABLE ME 3 An Admirable Third Entry Full of Unruly Laughs

FILM REVIEW: DESPICABLE ME 3 An Admirable Third Entry Full of Unruly Laughs

The formerly evil Gru (Steve Carrell) returns for the third installment of the successful Illumination Entertainment franchise Despicable Me, in what is a growing but still fresh and entertaining comedic series that will probably see at least one more entry after what I expect will be more applause for Despicable Me 3.

When we last saw Gru and his army of properly-named Minions, those pesky cute little yellow pills that speak a combination of romance language gibberish, Gru had wed the do-gooder Lucy (Kristin Wiig) and become a family man. At the start of this film, a sort of midlife crisis hits the family, with Gru and Lucy both fired after they botch the capture of Balthazar Bratt (voiced by South Park creator Trey Parker), a former child star now turned villainous after being shunned by Hollywood and former fans. Things then take a turn for the interesting when Gru finds out he has a long-lost brother, Dru, who aspires to be as mischievous as his twin once was, but has never achieved that level of infamy.

The Despicable Me series has always been notable for the amusing Minions, and the third film is no exception. Some of the funniest moments come out of their own little side adventures, including a trip to the slammer. But the addition of the Bratt character and Trey Parker’s talent really makes this film better in some ways than the two prior ones.

Bratt is a child of the 80s and is obsessed with the decade that made him famous. It is somewhat of an easy gimmick to resort to a culturally well-known time period, one with so many easy references that will amuse todays parents when they take their children (I’m old, I guess). So it is that in Despicable Me 3 director Pierre Coffin, who impressively also voices the Minions, uses tracks and devices as varied as Michael Jackson’s Bad, strategically placed Madonna songs, references to the “(B)Rat Pack,” VCRs, and all sorts of other gems from that time. Bratt is amusing not only for his resort to those bygone times, but also because his fixation is to destroy Hollywood for destroying him. Again, a relatively easy trick to use, but one that is nevertheless pulled off with much success in the film. And his devices are clever—a monster, a ray, infinitely expanding chewing gum that does his bidding—such that he becomes one of the most amusing villains in recent memory.

As many franchises do when the number of the sequel starts growing, Despicable Me 3 exhibits some franchise bloating. The addition of the brother character requires someone else to share screen space and time with an already bulging cast that includes Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother, and that also included Russell Brand as one of Gru’s sidekicks. The latter is conspicuously absent, written off with a clever and funny device that is explained away in a few minutes. The Minions also, sadly, disappear for a good third of the film.

That is, in essence, the one problem with the film. Three independent stories develop—one between Gru and his brother as they try to bond as a family, the second between Lucy and the three girls (Miranda Cosgrove returns to play the eldest) as they embark on a similar journey, and the third (and by far the most amusing) is the Minions and their rascally ways. The three strands finally and thankfully converge on Bratt’s evil plans before it’s too late (for Tinseltown as well as for the sake of this film), and the prior damage can be forgiven.

Despicable Me, and, indeed, most Illumination cartoons, does not ever hit the high emotional or moralistic tones that Pixar films tend to dazzle with, but I’m not sure they are aiming to. As mentioned above, the “find my family” themes of the reeds seem thin. Instead, Despicable Me 3 is simply an entertaining, funny, and amusing cartoon movie, one that is effective in that sense and that will surely please the young audiences it is aimed for.

Instead, Illumination has always also distinguished itself for crisp, realistic animation to go along the more inventive. Despicable Me 3 thus features a crisp look once more, along with the amusing tunes that Pharrell Williams provides, at least when it is not being provided by A-ha or Cyndi Lauper. The jokes are invariably fresh, with only a couple of scattered resorts to the puerile. The strongest facet of all of this is the undeniable voice talent of the cast. Carrell is once more hilarious and hits the accented former villain on the nose, with Wiig providing the character her usual sweet aplomb and distinctive sensitivity. Trey Parker is quite simply a brilliant addition to the group and whatever the next installment brings, he will surely be missed.

The Minions may be little troublemakers, and Gru’s brother a wannabe scamp as well. But Gru and Lucy successfully anchor the unruly, all while trying to get their jobs back and save Hollywood from itself. Despicable Me 3 gets all of those jobs done, even if you do wonder how the franchise will manage its ever-growing family as it gets larger and larger, like perpetually inflating bubble gum that may lift it all away.

Grade: B+

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About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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