Film Review: Despicable Me 3 is Disarmingly Electric

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures Some animation features only have to answer one question: Do they make you laugh? Another one might be: Do they entertain you? And for the most part, I seem to recall finding Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 fairly entertaining and funny, with the Minions spinoff less so on both counts. The story on any of these movies hardly matters, but the emphasis has tended to be about family, or at least the family to cobble together to help make you a better person. And over the course of the first two films, the supreme villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has amassed a wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and three daughters, who are all quite adorable. With Despicable Me 3, Gru adds a new member to his growing clan, a long-lost twin brother, Dru (also Carell), who he didn’t even know about until this film. And when he confronts his mother (Julie Andrews) about it, she confesses that when she split from his father, each of them took one of the twins to raise. Despicable Me 3 opens with what I guess is supposed to be a news piece about the growing threat of a villain named Balthazar Bratt (“South Park” creator and main vocal talent Trey Parker), a former child actor who played a character meant to be the worst kid in the world. But when his voice broke upon hitting puberty and he stopped being cute, he snapped, taking on the identity of the Bratt character and committing actual acts of evil, such as setting loose every-expanding bubble gum bubbles that push every person and building in its path out of the way violently. He also fancies himself a competitive dancer and insists on having any number of ’80s pop tunes playing while he carries out his acts of destruction. In an attempt to steal the world’s biggest diamond, Bratt is thwarted (but not caught) by Gru and Lucy, but the new boss of the Anti-Villain League, Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate), isn’t happy that Bratt got away, and she fires them, leaving Gru with a lot of time to spend with his family. And then Dru enters to picture, with a full head of golden locks, dressed all in white, and just being generally agreeable and hugely successful. But the two get along splendidly and even being working together. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures But I know all you people care about are the damn Minions, who naturally return but in a slightly different capacity. Most of them assume that when Gru gets fired from the AVL that he’ll return to his villainous roots. When he doesn’t, many of them quit in protest, in the hopes of finding a better boss. When they aren’t the stars of their own movie, the Minions are still very funny. Many members of the key creative team behind the film have been working on these characters from the beginning. Director Pierre Coffin has had a hand in directing all three Despicable Me movies and Minions, second director Kyle Balda made Minions and The Lorax, and co-director Eric Guillon did character work on all four films. And it’s clear that their devotion to these characters and this world is real. Per usual, the film are family friendly, but there are a few strange little, almost throwaway lines that get downright subversive. Part of that is the cast. Carell, Wiig and Parker have all worked in the R-rated realm, and while there’s certainly none of that present, there are a few moments that dance up to the line and pull back at almost the second you think something unseemly is going to happen. It adds a bit of electricity to the proceedings. Despicable Me 3 isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s frenetic energy and dedication to adult-level silly is admirable, so much so that it’s easily the best of the bunch. It’s goofy, funny, catchy like pop songs, and has a lot of great things to say about embracing and expanding your definition of family. You could do a lot worse in the search for family entertainment, believe me.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.