Now that we’ve seen the Minions — those roly-poly, bright-yellow, gibberish-polyglot henchmen — carry their own movie, can we really go back to treating them like sidekicks? If “Despicable Me 3” is any indication, then the answer to that question is a firm “No.” This third go-round with reformed supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) flags whenever the Minions or antagonist Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) aren’t at the center of the action.
Back in the 1980s, Bratt was the teen star of a hit TV series, but after puberty hit, he and the show got the sack. Since then, Bratt became the gadget-wielding bad guy he once played on the small screen in real life, but his aesthetic never evolved: he wears a shoulder-padded track suit in a shade of purple not seen before or since 1984, and he’s not letting a bald spot keep him from sporting a king-of-the-mall mullet.
While Bratt is one of the best additions to this third entry, he’s too often off-screen so we can follow the less-interesting adventures of Gru and new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who have both just been fired from the Anti-Villain League for failing to stop Bratt from stealing the world’s largest diamond. That’s not the only shake-up in Gru’s life — one day he receives word from Dru, the twin brother he never knew he had, inviting him for a visit.
(Julie Andrews makes an all-too-brief appearance as the mother who separated the siblings when she and her husband divorced.)
With no other immediate prospects Gru, Lucy and daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel) head off to Freedonia — Groucho Marx’s Rufus T. Firefly is sadly absent — for a family reunion. And while it appears that Dru is a successful pig farmer, the real family legacy turns out to be supervillainy, and Dru hopes Gru can tutor him in the ways of their father. Gru plays along, mainly in an attempt to steal the diamond back from Bratt.
There are more plates here than screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio know how to spin — the Minions get packed off to jail for much of the movie, preventing them from interacting with the other characters, and subplots about Lucy’s worries over stepmotherhood, the AVL’s brash new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate), and a Freedonian boy with a crush on Margo never really go anywhere. (And if you happen to be an Edith fan, she particularly is left with nothing to do here.)
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Not that there aren’t some hilarious and visually striking moments along the way, whether it’s Gru and Dru breaking into Bratt’s fortress in skintight suits that suggest a cross between “Danger: Diabolik” and “Spy vs. Spy” or the Minions’ elaborate, garbled take on an operetta classic.
The hits of the ’80s that underscore Bratt’s every move are a little on the nose, but at least the vintage pop songs are a diversion from the string of chirpy Pharrell Williams tunes, all apparently designed to be “Happy”-style earworms.
Parker revels in the trademark nasal arrogance he’s honed to perfection after decades of “South Park,” and Carell seems to be enjoying himself as he figures out a way to make the twins’ voices different from one another. But Lucy is such a seeming afterthought here that Wiig is stuck marking time.
Ultimately, none of these flaws will matter to the throngs of little kids who have made the previous “Despicable Me” movies (and the superior “Minions” spin-off) into giant global hits. But even parents who found the earlier outings reasonably tolerable may find themselves making excuses to linger longer at the concession stand.