Come for the decent concept, stay for the Minions. That’s always been the general thesis behind Despicable Me films, and Universal has done its best to give the people what they want. The world will likely not remember Steve Carell’s work as Gru, or Russell Brand’s now-dispatched Doctor Nefario, but the Minions will almost certainly live on until the end of time. It’s one of those lightning in a bottle situations, and as such the studio really had no obligation to their bottom line for these sequels to be any good. But Despicable Me 2 surpassed those expectations, and they’ve done it again here. When Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from the Anti Villain League after allowing 80s television star turned bad guy Baltazar Bratt (Trey Parker) to steal a priceless diamond, Gru is forced to team up with his newly-revealed secret twin brother Dru (also Carell) in order to get it back. But will he be tempted to return to his villainous ways? Meanwhile, the Minions strike out on their own after growing tired of their new domesticated life, and Lucy attempts to bond with Margo, Edith and Agnes. The structure of the film mirrors the rather strange publicity, with a few different ideas smashed together. There’s the Baltazar Bratt story which warns of the dangers of believing your own hype, and then there’s the Parent Trap homage that sees Gru discover his secret brother and fight the urge to join him. Dru is the opposite of Gru in almost every way. He’s rich and flashy, he has long, luscious blonde hair and – most importantly of all – he’s absolutely terrible at super-villainy. The film thankfully doesn’t try too hard to pull the wool over our eyes in terms of whether Gru is faking his potential relapse or not, instead choosing to give the audience more knowledge of what’s really going on than some of the characters. With Bratt, the 80s references come thick and fast, and they provide some light chuckles for some of the parents in the audience. There are musical cues and sight gags galore, some of which you’ll probably miss on first watch, and while it’s not reinventing the wheel at all, it’s all just silly fun. The reason the Minions feel so peculiarly placed in this film is that they’ve vastly overtaken the franchise in popularity. They’ve had a solo outing since Despicable Me 2, and yet the series can’t feasibly cut them loose without losing an essential part of its DNA. The marketing for this film was centred almost entirely around the little yellow guys, despite their relatively small role in the actual story. They’re stars too big and bright to fit back into the box, and it stands out even more because they’re on such top form here. Cutaways to these side characters get some if not most of the biggest laughs, and the rest of the film feels at times like pretty decent filler before we get to the next gibberish-filled sight gag. Agnes is still overwhelmingly cute, and the film manages to do some more amusing and adorable stuff with her here. While Edith gets the short straw again in terms of material, Agnes sets off on her own quest to find a real unicorn. But primarily they’re furniture in Lucy’s storyline, in which she attempts to be a real mother figure in her step-children’s lives. In the end, things are left more open than you might be expecting for a 90-minute animated family movie, with hints at where future instalments might go. That’s a relief because, as entertaining as Despicable Me 3 is, the initial concept has definitely begun to look a bit thin. Like so many series, the fresh conceit that made the original so successful has a law of diminishing returns, but Despicable Me 3 deserves a lot of credit for managing to craft three solid films in a row. In a world of Pixar masterpieces, overly-meta LEGO movies and disappointing property tie-ins a la Angry Birds, there’s something quaint and lovely about the Despicable Me franchise. It’s silly and light and basically inconsequential, and it will surely do its job of entertaining the little ‘uns.
Despicable Me 3 is in UK cinemas from Friday.