The Despicable Me franchise isn't like other animated franchises. As anyone who's encountered reformed supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his increasingly ubiquitous Minions can attest, these movies stand in marked contrast to the contemporaneous offerings from competitors Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks.
Often described as having a "European" flavour, there's an element of sly danger to Gru's adventures. It played a large part in Carell becoming involved.
"I always got the sense that they were trying something unique and a bit different," Carell tells TimeOut. "I'll never forget in the first movie when the iron maiden shuts on a little girl with all of these spikes, and then, if that's not scary enough, you see red fluid coming out the bottom of the iron maiden and then the door opens back up and her juice box has been pierced. And I thought that was a terrifying moment, but kids love having their boundaries pushed a little bit in that direction, they love being challenged, they love things a little bit scary, a little bit dark."
Carell and co-star Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters), who voices Lucy Wilde, Gru's partner in life and villain-chasing, have joined TimeOut in a Los Angeles hotel suite to discuss the latest entry in the series, Despicable Me 3, which hits theatres in New Zealand next week.
As you may expect from two of the biggest comedy stars in the world, Carell and Wiig are very much at ease with other, and project a gentle rapport that comes through in the movie. Wiig is a little quieter in person than you might discern from her acting style, and Carell's casual confidence seems pronounced when compared to his most iconic performance: the blustering Michael Scott from the American version of The Office.
Despicable Me 3 is the first film in the franchise since the Minions got their own hugely successful spin-off movie in 2015. The little yellow critters nevertheless show up in this film, but the central thrust concerns Gru is facing his biggest challenge yet: brotherhood.
After voicing his mother in the first film, Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music) returns in the role to inform Gru that he actually has a twin brother: Dru, also voiced by Carell. Unburdened by the struggles that lead Gru to becoming a supervillain, Dru is a happy-go-lucky millionaire who dresses in white and has hair. Naturally, Gru hates him.
Carell's vocal performance as Gru is one of the most identifiable of the modern animation boom, so TimeOut suggests it must've been tough coming up with an equally iconic aural counterpart?
"Not too much," says Carell. "They're so supportive of whatever we do that there's a huge freedom to fail. They want you to have fun when you're in that voice session. When I first started trying Dru, we started with the character. How he is physically different that Gru, and how he is emotionally different. And I tried to kind of centre on that, that he's not a grump like Gru, he's not cynical like Gru. He's much more childlike and silly and ebullient. And so I tried to match the voice of that. But at the same time he's sort of a flipside of Gru."
Carell says he had no hesitation in choosing to do a third Despicable Me film.
"Frankly I do it based on my history with [Producer] Chris Meledandri and Illumination [Entertainment, who make the films]. I just trust them. They could say 'We don't even have an idea, but we want to make another one'."
"That's kind of what happened," chimes in Wiig, only half-joking.
"You can never tell how things are going to be received, ever," Wiig continues. "Even if you have a great time shooting something or you think it's going to be one thing or you read the script and then you see the final product, you have no idea what's going to happen in that final cut and with these movies it's just been better every time. We go in and record these really funny lines and every time we see the final product it's like 'Oh my gosh, this is way better than we could have ever imagined."
For all its European weirdness, the Despicable Me franchise is one of the most successful in the business. Not that anyone involved expected that.
"I think if you have expectations and it doesn't work out, you're bummed for just that reason," says Wiig. "And if they do work out then you don't really experience the joy of just having it work out and not knowing it's going to work out. You just can't think too much. Especially in this business. It's so much more random I think than people assume."
Who: Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig
What: Despicable Me 3
When: In cinemas next Thursday