Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bad Guy Gone Good: DESPICABLE ME 3

Despicable Me 3 is a bright cartoony machine, the best one in the series since its first installment way back in 2010. For over seven years now, the little yellow slapstick pill Minions (voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) have been everywhere, helping boss Gru in a sequel and themselves in their spin-off prequel. In the process, the folks at Illumination animation have proved to be pretty good at making these movies (and only these movies, as their grating Secret Life of Pets and Sing show). This new one makes good use of its threadbare Saturday morning adventure comedy appeal, concocting B-plots for supporting characters and giving the lead a couple big problems to sort out in sitcom fashion that allows the colorful slapstick and neat invention to take center stage. There’s nothing groundbreaking or deep about the series, but need there be? It’s goofy, energetic, colorful, and full of funny little touches: ever-expanding bubblegum as a weapon of mass destruction, a secret hideout in a blimp accessible only by a sofa in a fake retirement home, a pig farm mansion concealing a supervillain armory, and a drone fleet of remaindered dolls from a forgotten 80’s oddity. These silly charms are enough to keep the story of a pathetic cartoon villain hanging up his evil ways for fatherly duties coasting on and on.

The plot is so simple. In a fun opening action sequence, new villain Balthazar Bratt (a purple-jumpsuit-wearing, keytar-playing, dance-battle-enjoying doofus voiced by Trey Parker) escapes a flying hijacked freighter before Anti-Villain League operatives Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) can stop him. For this failure, they’re fired. Before they can fight to get their jobs back, there is the movie’s other development: Gru’s long lost twin brother, Dru. Apparently, there was a secret Parent-Trap-backstory situation happening here, with Gru’s mother (Julie Andrews) admitting that she got the bad end of the bargain. Gru is invited to take his family to the island nation of Freedonia (a neat reference to the Marx brothers’ fictitious Duck Soup setting) and meet this long-lost bro. No surprise, the guy turns out to be Gru’s opposite: happy-go-lucky, overeager to please, and with a full head of hair. The series’ usual directors and writers here provide Carell an opportunity to continue his pleasant, mushy-mouthed, vaguely-Slavic voice performance’s Peter Sellers’ tendencies in a double role distinguished mostly by how frowny or bubbly he makes any given line reading. Freedonia becomes a silly playground for Gru’s daughters (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Nev Scharrel) and their small scenes – cute, flimsy stuff involving cheese rituals and unicorn hunts – while the grown-ups run around. You see, Dru is jealous of his brother’s infamy, and Gru hopes to use this to partner up and take down Bratt. Simple as that.

Bouncy 3D cartoon commotion in a slick wide frame moves things along, with heists and chases and all sorts of mad scrambling and shouting (the voice work is energetic and giggly), explosions and engines, and elaborate gadgetry nonsense. Gru and Dru grow closer and further apart depending on the needs of a scene, though it makes a prickly brotherly sense. Bratt is a fun new villain, bopping to 80’s tunes and plotting with his chintzy robot sidekick from his lair: a deep-sea tower surrounded by poisonous spikes and guarded by rockets stored in a giant Rubik’s cube. Lucy gets short shrift most of the time, but she has a pleasant motivation to gain her new adopted daughters’ trust. Best, of course, are the Minions, babbling away in their own plotline most of the way through, having resigned to find a more despicable boss. (They remain as preposterously hilarious as ever, waddling and squabbling and getting the brunt of the wackiest violence.) In the end, the variety of subplots converge in a fast-paced action climax where lessons are learned, loyalties confirmed, trust earned, and everything is in its place for a sentimental finale with a door wide open for more. It’s all hectic set-pieces and quick gags, one after the other, lined up for minimum downtime and maximum zany distraction. There’s nothing to it but skillfully empty colorful entertainment. That’s good enough, the series approaching exactly the sort of comforting rhythms and agreeable form of any other reasonably diverting Saturday morning cartoon. Forget the popcorn. I bet it pairs best with a huge bowl of Frosted Flakes.

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