Those pill-shaped minions and their amusingly grumpy leader Gru will just never be as fresh and funny as they were in their 2010 debut Despicable Me. A 2013 sequel and a Minions-only spinoff last year were fine, but it’s not like the world needs another kid-friendly animated franchise to grind out in perpetuity.
So yeah, now the gang is back for the fourth time in Despicable Me 3, directed by Eric Guillon, and it’s … OK.
Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) has lost some of his edge: He’s no longer a bad guy, and is married to Lucy, (Kristen Wiig), an agent with the Anti-Villain League. There’s some plot jiggering to give Gru a purpose: He and Lucy bungle the capture of a crook — washed-up 1980s TV star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) who has stolen a giant pink gem — and get fired from the League. Conveniently, Gru learns he has a long-lost brother, Dru (also Carrell), who wants to learn cool spy-like villain behavior. So Gru trains Dru, and our three heroes work to steal the diamond back from Bratt, a.k.a. commit a crime for good.
Bratt is a silly-fun foil, if you’re old enough to appreciate all the 1980s pop-culture jokes woven through his mullet, and to get the laughs about how child stars can wind up as grotesque parodies of themselves. (Preening one’s once-beloved catchphrase “I’ve been a bad boy” isn’t a good look for an adult.) And Bratt’s antics come preloaded with era-appropriate pop songs (A-Ha, Michael Jackson, Madonna) — but do any of today’s kids care? Also (presumably) for the accompanying adults are a number of nods to other animated favorites such as Finding Nemo, Dr. Seuss’ Grinch and the Pink Panther.
Meanwhile, the minions are oddly sidelined. After Gru renounces villainy, they walk out in protest, so their various antics — entering a singing competition, landing in jail, escaping said jail in a jerry-rigged contraption — occur outside of the main story. Given their over-exposure, less is certainly more, but fans will miss the dynamic push-pull of the minions with Gru. In 3-D, in select theaters