NB: this is one of those movies – Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Batman Forever, Se7en and Eye of the Beholder are others – that seems designed to annoy film title pedants since the onscreen title is impossible to use in any other context. For the record, it reads ‘Despicable Me’ and then revolves the last letter to read ‘Despicable M3’. That scream you hear at the back of the auditorium is the origin story of how the title-recorder at the British Film Institute’s credits listing department started on the road to super-villainy …
Though the spin-off movie Minions was a notch or two down in quality, this CGI toon series is one of the most consistently inventive, entertaining and endearing modern film franchises. This entry carries over from Despicable Me 2 the minor problem – which crippled the Shrek films – of having a former curmudgeon so reformed by the events of previous films that he’s lost the edge that made the first film work. Here, Gru (still voiced by Steve Carrell) is fired from the Anti-Villain League after failing to thwart a new nemesis and is united with hitherto-unknown, white-clad twin Dru (also Carrell), a foulup who wants to be tutored in arch-villainy. The minions, shunted off into a gag-heavy subplot which includes their spell in prison and on a Hollywood talent show (singing Gilbert & Sullivan in minionese gibberish), also want Gru to revert to the evil he grew out of at the end of Despicable Me. But that’s not going to happen.
What the team – directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, co-director Eric Guillon, writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio – do to make up the shortfall is give everyone new plots to play with and keep the whole thing moving so fast, with so much invention, that we don’t really care that the star is now upstaged by everyone else, including his twin brother. Gru is now in an intense rivalry (‘dance fight’) with new character Balthazar Bratt, an 80s child star grown up into a retro-supervillain re-enacting episodes of his sit-com. Perfectly voiced by Trey Parker with the kind of smug hysterical snark only he can manage, Bratt is a great new character – he owes a small debt to Baby Doll, one of the least appreciated terrific additions to Batman’s rogues’ gallery from the 1990s animated show – and allows for very funny repurposing of ‘80s music and fashions. His sidekick is a clunky toy robot voiced by Andy Nyman and his major weapons are pink expanding bloblike bubblegum which is surprisingly creepy and a smug-looking giant mecha version of his old action figure (a horde of tiny toys, inevitably dubbed ‘the Bratt Pack’, are unleashed several times).
The interplay between the estranged brothers – in the Marxian country of Fredonia – is less compelling, though the film gets inventive when they go on a jaunt in one of their villain father’s super-vehicles and there’s a wealth of sight-gaggery involving matched black and white rubber sticky morphing Diabolik super-suits as Gru and Dru try to penetrate Bratt’s Rubik’s Cube lair. Not forgotten is Lucy (Kristen Wiig), the enthusiastic agent married to Dru last time out – it’s a rare thing that Lucy is funny but not inept, and here her arc has her becoming a Mom to Gru’s three nieces (characters who are miraculously not cloying), who each get their own plot lick (involving cheese/romance, mischief and the search for a fluffy unicorn).
Of the modern animated franchises, only the Toy Story saga has kept up the quality the way the Despicable Mes have. With Julie Andrews as Gru’s Mom, Steve Coogan again, Jenny Slate … and, down in the ‘additional voice’ list, John Kassir, Laraine Newman, Mindy Sterling and Tara Strong.