When the original Despicable Me first came around, I loved it. To be fair, I was eleven at the time and the film’s target audience, but the off-beat humor and mischievous antics of the characters grabbed me, in a way that few kid’s films could. In a world where animation was dominated by wholesome (usually Disney and Pixar) films like Up, Happy Feet and WALL-E, it was a breath of fresh air to have a film whose entire plot revolved around being bad.
Context: The (Superior) Original
If you haven’t seen it, firstly- revisit the original instead of pursuing the latest sequel. Secondly, here’s what you missed: A super-villain called Gru (Steve Carrell in a vaguely Russian accent), temporarily adopts three sisters as tools to fulfill his despicable plan, but ends up accidentally loving and keeping them. In the second installment, Gru gives up his life of crime to become an agent for the Anti-Villain League, where he meets, falls in love with, and marries Lucy, a fellow agent (Kristen Wiig).
Despicable Me 3 starts with Gru and his wife Lucy, attempting to stop the theft of the world’s largest diamond. The villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), is in the middle of a very 80’s heist, complete with shoulder pads, expanding bubble gum weapons and a dance battle to Michael Jackson’s‘Bad’. Unsurprisingly, Gru’s intervention fails (in part due to his adopted daughters’ playing with his guns) and he is exiled from the Anti-Villain league.
Conveniently, a long-lost twin brother arrives on the scene, with plans for the pair to unite and pursue the family business of villainy. Dru, also voiced by Carrell, is a bumbling excitable version of Gru, with luscious blond locks. Dru jets the family to his mansion in Freedonia and from there, the story goes in about five different directions.
Messy Plot Lines
One of the main problems with this film is how the central narrative splits into many sub-plots, with each character having their own narrative arc. The first film succeeded because of the simple, cohesive story line that involved the whole family. In contrast,Despicable Me 3 almost feels like five different writers were given a character story to write, and they stitched it together in the end.
Gru must take care of his brother, beat Balthazar and get his job back. Balthazar wants to become the fictional villain he played as a child star, and take revenge on Hollywood for cancelling his television show. Lucy wants the girls to accept her as their mother. The minions abandon Gru and end up in jail. A village boy has a crush on Margo, while Agnes and Edith go on a mission to find unicorns.
There is very little screen time spent on the unlikely family together, which is a shame because that dynamic was what made the original so charming to begin with.
The script also repeats itself quite a bit, bringing out old tricks from previous movies. The nerdy villain has been done before, better, by Jason Segel in the original. Margo dating was covered in Despicable Me 2. And, this is the second time we’ve seen the girls getting kidnapped and placed on a precariously high ledge.
When this happened the first time, the audience had witnessed Gru’s growing love for the girls, and therefore were worried about their welfare. In Despicable Me 3, more time is spent on Gru’s relationship with his minions than his daughters, and so, we don’t really care as much.
There’s still the Minions up to their old shenanigans, Agnes being cute, and a fantastic final showdown between Gru and his nemesis. After his Oscar Nomination for ‘Happy’, Pharrell Williams is back with more catchy, upbeat songs. The gag-real of Gru embarrassing himself in a variety of ways is also there, but third time round these jokes don’t hit like they used to. Basically, it’s a lackluster reworking of what worked in the previous films, with more jokes and less heart.
If there was one thing 2016 Cinema was known for, it was great animation. Disney scored some winners with Zootopia and Moana, while other beautiful films like Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle proved that animation isn’t just for kids. Like many franchises(Pirates of the Caribbean and Die Hard, I’m looking at you), the Despicable Me series is on a downward spiral, decreasing in quality with each new film. It’s fine for getting laughs from its target audience – kids under 10 – but Illumination Entertainment has to try harder if it wants to stay on top of the Animation game.
Do you think that Despicable Me 3 was a hit or a miss? Let us know in the comments!
This review was originally published on Film Inquiry.
Despicable Me 3 was released in the U.S. and the U.K on June 30, 2017. For all international release dates, see here.