Shortly before my husband and I got married, someone gifted us a copy of Despicable Me—a movie we had enjoyed so much that we added it to our wedding registry. I don’t particularly enjoy kids’ movies, but Despicable Me was such a perfect balance of sentiment and humor, plot and character, that it resonated with me immediately. I was also, however, disappointed by Universal’s decision to follow it up with a series of increasingly minion-laden sequels—not because the franchise seemed unworthy of revisiting but because it seemed not to need it.
For this reason, Despicable Me 3 surprised me. Three movies in, the franchise still works, and works well: Gru’s relationship with his daughters, as well as the new addition of his wife, Lucy, ground the film with a fitting sentiment—one that keeps the value of community at the forefront of this franchise. I also appreciated the film’s acknowledgement of moral complexity, with its inclusion of a character whose path toward righteousness has been, as it is for many, a struggle.
Despicable Me 3 opens on Gru’s failed attempt to capture the film’s villain—Bratt Balthazar, a vengeful ’80s child star seeking retribution on Hollywood for canceling his television show. Armed with fiendishly strong bubble gum and a keytar that (naturally) plays popular ’80s music, Balthazar quite nearly steals the world’s largest diamond—a feat for which Gru is held accountable and ultimately fired alongside his wife.
Rocked by his unemployment, Gru struggles to stand firmly committed to his new crime-fighting creed—a creed for which his minions ultimately abandon him. Gru and family barely have time to lament this fact, though, before they’re whisked off to meet Gru’s long-lost twin brother, Dru. Once reunited, Gru and Dru set off together to steal back the diamond, which Bratt has managed to steal in Gru’s absence from the Anti-Villainy League.
Despicable Me 3 hit all the right high notes: a frenzied energy that only an actor of Steve Carell’s caliber could pull off believably, measured doses of the otherwise over-marketed minions, and an undeniable sweetness uniting Gru’s unconventional family. The comedy kept my son, who struggles to keep up with dialogue, in stitches, while the more complex family dynamics kept me entertained. Like with the original Despicable Me, this film included a wide array of elements that everyone could enjoy.
That said, it struggled, too. The plot seemed convoluted at times, and though I think the film ultimately worked, it did so in spite of a story that didn’t always add up. While my son, who is only five, didn’t seem to mind the nonsensical twists and turns, he also couldn’t relate to any of the main points of conflict—Gru’s and Lucy’s job loss, Lucy’s struggle to connect with her newly adopted daughters, and Gru’s ambivalence as he attempts to connect with his long-lost twin brother. He also couldn’t understand the humor surrounding the film’s leading villain. While Bratt’s keytar and nostalgic vibe earned a few laughs from the adult supervision, it did little to engage the film’s target demographic.
Still, both my son and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I’d recommend it without hesitation. The elements that composed the heartwarming first film are all still present and, while I’d be surprised if they could weather a fourth installment, they were not too worn to buoy Despicable Me 3. Edith, Agnes, and Margo continue to balance a distinctly slapstick brand of humor with a grounded sentiment, drawing viewers young and old to the notion that communities—even unpredictable, sometimes dysfunctional ones—are valuable aspects of humanity.