Despicable Me 3

The strategy for Despicable Me 3 is familiar among erstwhile successful franchises desperate to keep the wheels turning — fill every frame with nonstop chaos, toss in some new characters regardless of relevance, and don’t stray too far from the original formula.

Indeed, the financial prosperity of the animated series is on solid ground even as it offers diminishing creative returns. And this third installment — or fourth, if you count the unfortunate Minions spinoff — continues to feel more familiar than fresh.

As this film opens, reformed supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is unable to capture his new nemesis, bitter former child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). So he’s fired from the Anti-Villain League by his ruthless new boss (Jenny Slate).

Returning home to his wife (Kristen Wiig) and three adorable daughters, Gru contemplates his future when he’s visited by a stranger named Dru (also voiced by Carell) claiming to be his long-lost twin brother. Dru wants Gru to return to his evil ways and form a partnership of sorts. But when Bratt’s nefarious plan is unleashed, Gru’s loyalties are torn.

The first Despicable Me, released in 2010, was imaginative in both conception and execution, with Gru as a delightfully subversive antihero. Yet none of the subsequent films has provided the same level of energy or laughter.

Under the guidance of returning directors Pierre Coffin (who also voices the ubiquitous diminutive minion sidekicks) and Kyle Balda, the latest film is at least as visually impressive as its predecessors, with crisp and colorful backgrounds to go with sharply detailed characters that include exaggerated physical features.

The villains have always been the stars of this franchise, and the new installment is no exception. Bratt’s obsession with the worst of 1980s fashion and music trends provides some intermittent hilarity, not to mention a rooting interest for moviegoers of a certain generation who might be chaperoning those in the target demographic.

However, despite some amusing sight gags and one-liners, the screenplay is uninspired and mostly reliant on old tricks. We’ve already seen Gru’s transformation from criminal mastermind to cuddly father to reluctant hero, and with nothing substantively new to offer, the periphery characters steal the spotlight. There’s not much despicable about Despicable Me 3, and that’s part of the problem.


Rated PG, 89 minutes.