The Despicable Me films have thus far successfully disproved the idea that sequels are never as good as the films that preceded them. The latest entry, Despicable Me 3, is no exception. Like its predecessors, and even like its Minions spinoff, it’s delightfully goofy family fare with great 3D animation, a lot of laughs, and even a little heart. It’s not so much that the filmmakers are finding ways to keep the franchise fresh. If anything, they’re sticking with a formula, one that has consistently worked since 2010. Perhaps there will come a time when it will get stale and repetitive. Fortunately, that time isn’t now.
This new film is actually a series of interconnected subplots. In one, reformed supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) discovers that he has a long lost twin brother named Dru (also Carell) living in a fictional foreign country that holds annual cheese festivals. Situated in a sprawling seaside mansion, Dru – who, with the exception of a white suit, a full head of blonde hair, and a much cheerier disposition, resembles Gru identically – reveals that his successful pig-farming business is really a front for a long legacy of supervillainy, which included their deceased father. He tempts Gru into returning to his old ways, mostly because Dru was always a bit of a screw-up in that area, having succeeded only in petty thefts like shoplifting candy carts.
In another subplot, Gru and his wife Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) are fired from their anti-villain agency when the latest attempt to capture a criminal mastermind ended with him escaping and stealing a pink diamond the size of a basketball. In order to get back into the agency’s good graces, Gru plots to infiltrate the mastermind’s lair and reclaim the diamond. The mastermind is Balthazaar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker), a has-been former child star. In every way, he remains hilariously stuck in the 1980s, from his shoulder-padded purple jumpsuit to his mullet haircut to his Rubik’s Cube-shaped lair to his breakdance moves. He even adds a soundtrack of ‘80s pop hits to his heists, including Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” and Madonna’s “Into the Groove.”
In yet another subplot, after quitting in protest, Gru’s funny and perpetually slapstick Minions are arrested upon unwittingly crashing the Sing stage and performing a gibberish version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major-General.” They quickly establish themselves in prison as top dogs, entering and exiting various areas by snapping their fingers a la the choreography of Jerome Robbins. Their collective attempt to escape and reunite with Gru will involve the construction of an aircraft, which utilizes appliances like washing machines and spin dryer, amenities like toilets (one of which always has an apparently unaware prisoner sitting on it, reading a newspaper), and lots and lots of black-and-white striped prison suits.
Finally, as she explores Dru’s homeland, Gru and Lucy’s youngest adopted daughter Agnes (voiced by Nev Sharrel) comes to believe that she can find a real-life unicorn in the woods. No one, not even her older sisters, has the heart to tell her the truth about the existence of unicorns; one look into her adorably wide eyes, and even the most hardened of hearts can melt. This comes as both Lucy tries to take on a more assertive maternal role and the oldest daughter Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove) tries to evade a local boy, who mistook her taking part in a cheese-eating local dance as a sign of marriage eligibility.
Admittedly, there are several gags that younger audiences are guaranteed to not be in on, including a movie studio named after Walter Mondale, the fact that Dru’s country, Freedonia, is named after the equally fictitious country in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, and Bratt referring to his evil action-figure army as the Bratt Pack. But as I’ve repeatedly observed, a good family film has all members of the family in mind, not just children. The adults who see Despicable Me 3 are just as likely to have a good time as the kids, especially during the final act, in which Bratt’s monster-movie attempt to destroy Hollywood comes off as both a jab and a loving homage, and during the end credits, the action that unfolds clearly influenced by Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy strips.