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Considering everything you’ll need to learn about the brand new villain in Despicable Me 3, you’ll have a strong leg up if you lived through the 80s.
Trey Parker - yes, he, of South Park and Team America - voices the newest enemy of Gru in the third Despicable Me movie, which pits the reformed supervillain (Steve Carell) against a formidable former child star named Balthazar Bratt. What you’ll immediately notice about the character is how he’s essentially trapped in a neon time-warp, as almost everything about him - from exploding Rubik’s Cubes and weaponized Simon sequences to purple shoulder pads and copious moonwalks - is dripping in 80s nostalgia.
“Bratt was a former child star in the 80s and was on a hugely popular television show where he actually played a kid villain, until his life hit a wall when he hit puberty, and with all of the immediate awkwardness of puberty came a complete exodus of his entire audience base, and Bratt’s never moved beyond that massive disappointment and is intent upon getting revenge against all of his fans who deserted him,” says Illumination CEO and Despicable producer Chris Meledandri, describing the concept imagined by DM3 writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.
“When we meet Bratt today, he’s an adult for whom, for all practical purposes, time has stopped in the 80s,” Meledandri continues. “There’s a lot of ’80s texture that’s fun to sit back and look for, whether it’s a yo-yo or a throwback to specific dance moves, and there are references that are also kind of hidden away and not so front and center. And I think, without question, the association of Michael Jackson with the 1980s was important for us and the utilization of that was a great gateway through which to enter the movie because Jackson speaks so much to that era.”
From that concept, character designer Eric Guillon ran wild and created a figure who oozed retro vibes; Bratt, he says, simply is the 80s, much like Gru is gothic or Vector (from the first film) is geek. “When I think about the 80s, the first thing that comes to my mind is music, then haircuts and shoulder pads,” says Guillon, who attempted to combine a handful of different 80s hairstyles into one cohesive look. “I chose the erect hair and cut it straight on the top of the head for a few reasons. Graphically, it’s radical and square, like Grace Jones’ style, and when I was younger, I was fascinated by her [because] she’s visually really strong. The other option was a ridiculous French singer from the 80s named Desireless, but I don’t think anybody knows her.” Bratt’s mustache helps him come alive with expressions, says Guillon, while his bald spot demonstrates weakness and relatability in the character’s loose grasp on his fleeting youth.
As for Bratt’s toys, they’re pulled from all across the catalogue - the Gum gun, the Rubik’s Cube, the emblematic keytar, a funky invention familiar to the franchise (the Lava Lamp Gun from Minions), and even a robot sidekick named Clive, a riff on tech toys like R.O.B. and Johnny 5. (Expect Clive, voiced by Andy Nyman, to be a surprise scene-stealer.) Miraculously - but as tends to be fairly common for Guillon - the final draft of Bratt still looks relatively close to the character’s initial concept: Horrendously stylish, lankily flexible, sadly middle-aged, and wickedly juvenile.
Enter Bratt’s voice: Trey Parker. As Meledandri tells it, the character design informed and defined personality, but “the crowning moment” was associate producer Brett Hoffman’s idea to ask South Park pioneer Parker - “one of the strongest vocal performers of our time” - to voice the villain. “It’s a character that Trey immediately connected with, and in his first recording session, he shared with us that having Pierre [Coffin] direct him was the first time he had been directed by anybody other than himself, and he became such an important part of the creative team behind bringing the character to life,” says Meledandri. “Trey was definitely invited to put things into his own words, which he did frequently, and other times, he’d go right from what Cinco and Ken had written. But there are many little details Trey was contributing that became signature moves or expressions of Bratt.”
The final combination, as evidenced by the ludicrous and hilarious debut appearance of Bratt in the trailer, is a feast of creativity and character design - a task that only increases the demand of ingenuity the longer the franchise continues. “Every time we sit down to come up with a new adversary for Gru, it’s challenging because Gru is so formidable and distinctive himself with his own roots in villainy, so it really puts a heavy burden on defining who the new adversary is going to be,” says Meledandri. “But this character, I feel, really plays to the strength of our creative team. And you can see it the moment you start watching him.”
Despicable Me 3 arrives in theaters June 30.