Despicable Me 3 ** / *****
Directed by: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon.
Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio.
Starring: Steve Carell (Gru / Dru), Kristen Wiig (Lucy), Trey Parker (Balthazar Bratt), Miranda Cosgrove (Margo), Dana Gaier (Edith), Nev Scharrel (Agnes), Pierre Coffin (Minions / Museum Director / Additional Voice), Steve Coogan (Fritz / Silas Ramsbottom), Julie Andrews (Gru's Mom), Jenny Slate (Valerie Da Vinci).
The original Despicable Me was a pure animated delight. Yes, it wasn’t exactly original to see a movie villain whose heart is melted when he becomes the adopted father of three adorable girls he only got as part of an evil scheme – but it worked. Steve Carrell was great as Gru, the little yellow Minions were hilarious, the girls appropriately adorable (especially the little one, who loved her fluffy unicorn), and the whole thing was wrapped up in an amusing animated package. As far as big budget mainstream American animation not made by Pixar (man, that’s a lot of qualifiers) goes, they don’t get a whole lot better than that. It’s been diminishing returns ever since for this franchise though, that really should end – but of course, won’t. The second film – which found Gru now on the side of good, and of course falling in love (because when you have no other ideas, you give the main character a love interest) was lightweight, and fun – and completely forgettable. The spinoff Minions was loud, annoying and headache inducing – even if I have to admit it was kind of daring to do an entire film aimed at children with characters who don’t speak English. Now comes Despicable Me 3, which finds Gru reunited with his long lost twin brother (because when you really don’t have any other ideas, you give the main character a long lost twin brother).
The film isn’t necessarily bad – but it sure the heck is lazy. Everyone involved seems to be going through the motions here. Part of the problem is that as the series progresses, you have to keep finding things for all the new characters you have introduced to do. So here, the plot doesn’t require the minions at all – and so, they are given an entire subplot of a minion revolt, where they walk out on Gru – but have really no idea where to go, or what to do. The main plot doesn’t really involved Gru’s new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) – or the girls either – so they have to invent two subplots for them – one involving Lucy being insecure about her new role as the girl’s mother, and one involving the little girls obsession with finding a real life unicorn in the forest. Because the movie has to keep cutting away to those plots, the main thrust of the plot – Gru connecting with his brother Dru, who wants to learn how to be a supervillain like Gru used to be (and their late father, unknown to Gru) was – and at the same time Gru trying to capture supervillain Balthazar Bratt, a former child star on a 1980s sitcom, turned into a villain still obsessed with that decade (voiced by Trey Parker, one assumes, because Seth Macfarlane was too busy) feels even thinner than it otherwise would. Much worse though, is those subplots just aren’t very good.
To be fair, the film will likely please its intended audience. My six year old daughter told her mother when we came home that the movie was “so funny” – and my three year old sat through the whole thing with nary a complaint. It was their father who looked at his watch and couldn’t believe only 45 minutes had gone by when he thought it was about time for the thing to end. I don’t know what it is about animated franchises not made by Pixar where the creators get lazy. While it’s true that something like the Cars franchise hardly represents Pixar at their finest – the truth is that Pixar did actually reinvent the series each time out, and find no avenues to explore – to bad effect in Cars 2, but fine effect in Cars 3. Despicable Me on the other hand, just keeps churning out the same thing over and over again – and this time, the result was both boring and forgettable.