Movie Review: ‘Despicable Me 3’
Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Cast: Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slater
Plot: Former super-villain Gru is on the hunt for former child-star turned 80s-themed villain Balthazar Bratt. His pursuit is interrupted by his sacking from the AVL and the appearance of his long-lost twin brother Dru.
Disclaimer: I’m a grumpy old sod who hates nice things. If you want a more appropiate review from some actual children, skip down to the end.
Review: I wasn’t looking forward to this. I didn’t enjoy the other movies in the franchise and, given their success, there’s little motivation for them to mix things up. The problems I have with the previous films repeat themselves in this new outing, so consider this a review for the franchise as a whole.
First, there’s the animation. The actual style of the animation doesn’t bother me. I quite like the design of the characters and their world. The problem is that the director and animators don’t do anything with the form. The character’s in Pixar movies such as Toy Story and Inside Out are positively bursting with energy, every frame is packed with movement and exaggerated features. Even Futurama and The Simpsons manage this on a smaller budget. The animation in Despicable Me feels so restrained by comparison, they do so little to take advantage of the medium it almost feels inconsiderate. Steve Carrell (in duel roles as Gru and Dru) has brilliant comedic timing and it’s being done a disservice by the stilted animation. At times it feels like the animation is working against the comedy being provided by the cast. Steve Carrell has a more expressive face in real life than his animated counterpart.
Then there is, of course, the bloody Minions. This amorphic lumps have no personality and only provide comedy in form of fart noises and indecipherable squawking. We’ve talked in the past about why they’re a blight on film comedy. At the beginning of this film there’s a tease where the Minions quit working for Gru and I thought we might be free of them, but alas, they had their own ‘plot’.
There’s also a weird approach to comedy, particularly in its pop-culture references. There’s a whole sequence in this new film making reference to West Side Story. How many kids in the core audience are going to get that joke? Especially as it’s not a joke, it’s just a recreation of a scene from that film. You may argue that those jokes are there for the adults in the audience, but considering the average age of parents in the theatre are going to be aged 25-40 and West Side Story was released 55 years ago most of them won’t get it either. There’s also a reference to The Seven Year Itch, which came out more than 60 years ago. It’s a stretch to think all the parents watching the film will catch all of the references to 1980s culture, let along this stuff. It’s completely perplexing and it happens very frequently in modern kids films – the expectation is that people will simply recognise a frequently parodied scene. It’s a very lazy approach.
So let’s talk about Despicable Me 3. Gru is no longer a villain, but is married to Lucy Wilde (Wiig) and working for the Anti-Villain League. He gets fired after he fails to bring in Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker…wait, what?) but then discovers he has a twin brother. His brother Dru wants to follow in their father’s footsteps in being a famous villain but isn’t good at the role, so he asks Gru to help him. Gru must decide if he’s going back to being a villain while still trying to catch Bratt to rejoin the AVL.
Trey Parker as Bratt is easily the highlight of the film. As someone who grew up in the 1980s all his gadgets and music were lots of fun (although they probably flew over the head of the intended audience), and Parker’s years of experience as a comedic voice actor shows. His entire backstory about being a former child star whose fall from grace lead to a life of crime as a huge amount of fun. Sadly he doesn’t get enough screen time.
The other major plot concerns Gru and Dru, and there’s very little to it. Throughout the movie I kept asking myself why the main plot wasn’t about Gru being tasked with bringing the villain Dru to justice and this creating a conflict. Having a third villain – Bratt – seemed pretty pointless when there was a great story being forcibly ignored. Ultimately it looks like they’re going to do that in the next film, leaving this entire experience feeling like a prologue to a potentially better film. In fact, the entire movie does a sitcom trick of resetting everything by the time the film ends. There’s no character develop, no challenges, no nothing.
Oh, and there’s Gru’s wife and kids. They have stories. Lucy and Margo (Cosgrove) have a plot involving Lucy not feelings like a mother and Margo having to contend with a besotted suitor. It’s literally two scenes long. One scene sets it up, one scene resolves it. No more screen time is dedicated to it. Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel) fare a bit better with three scenes.
So the animation is wasted, the comedy falls flat, the characters are dull, the Minions exist and the story is pointless. The franchise is consistent at least.
Rating: TWO out of TEN
Obviously I’m not the intended audience for this and I didn’t like the first films. I’m not the best person to review this. I like arty, challenging films. I’m a snob. So I took my kids. If you don’t like my viewpoint, here’s another:
J-Funk (boy, 7 years old): I liked it. It was funny. The Minions were the best part. They were silly.
A-Funk (girl, 4 years old): Thought it was good. The Minions are funny!
And now to call the orphanage.