Latest Despicable Me Running Short of New Ideas
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has settled into his non-villainous life as a Secret Agent alongside wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and while the Minions aren’t exactly pleased he’s no longer a bad guy, adoptive daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel) couldn’t be prouder of him. But after an attempt to capture former ‘80s child star turned villain Balthazar “Evil” Bratt (Trey Parker) goes awry, Gru and Lucy suddenly find themselves unceremoniously fired by their new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate), forced to take the blame even though they went above and beyond in their attempts to capture the notoriously elusive criminal.
Just as things appear to be at their worst, news of the most amazing kind comes the family’s way from the small pig-loving country of Freedonia. Turns out, Gru has a twin named Dru (also Carell), their parents deciding to take custody of the children separately after they divorced. Before anyone can say “parent trap,” the two brothers are reunited, Lucy, Margo, Edith and Agnes all in awe of the blond newcomer’s spacious Freedonian estate. But Dru has a secret of his own; he longs to follow in the villainous footsteps of their father, prints once upon a time Gru used to fill perfectly. Unbeknownst to Lucy, the two brothers start to formulate a plan, one that, when enacted, will show Evil Bratt who the best bad guys are. Heck, they might even just save the world, or at least the city of Los Angeles, in the process.
As convoluted as Despicable Me 3 might initially appear, it’s clear that the creators of this internationally popular set of animated films are starting to run short of fresh ideas. The whole last third feels like it’s cribbed, almost beat-for-beat, from the finale of 2015’s Minions, while other sections repeat ideas from the other two entries in the series close to verbatim. Not that the third time isn’t without its charm. There’s a lovely side plot involving Agnes’ search for an honest to goodness unicorn deep in a Freedonian forest that’s paid off perfectly, while another running gag revolving around Lucy’s attempts to become an actual mother to the three girls is handled with delicate precision. The movie, unlike that rancid aforementioned spin-off, also employs the Minions as they should be utilized, their few moments of comic relief maybe the movie’s most amusing elements.
A handful of clever Duck Soup allusions and a smattering of solid visual sight gags aside (most of those unsurprisingly involving the Minions), I still can’t say there’s a ton additional I found exciting. Bratt isn’t near the villain he likely should be, the ‘80s gags too tired and obvious to be as amusing as directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, along with co-director Eric Guillon, likely intend them to be. The filmmakers also waste Slate in a thankless role, while they once again underutilize a returning Julie Andrews as Gru’s snarky mother to the point I hope she got paid a significant sum for all of two or three minutes of embarrassing screen time she ends up filling.
Then there is the level of violence. As with Minions (and like last year’s non-Despicable Me animated hit The Secret Life of Pets, also from the studio behind this franchise), the amount of destruction and carnage going on inside this thing just feels out of place for a story that at its core is so simplistic and sweet. The carnage stands out in a way that doesn’t fit neatly alongside the cute, childlike elements that often drive the characters forward as they pursue their various goals. Bratt’s plan calls for the absolute destruction of Hollywood so buildings crumble in a mass of explosive fireballs, and even if it’s all covered in gigantic pink blobs of bubblegum, the full extent of the devastation still left a bad taste in my mouth that soured my enjoyment of the film a substantial amount.
Yet, it’s hard for me to come down too hard on any of this. I did laugh, and the best bits had me grinning ear-to-ear. I also love that the filmmakers are going out of their way to try and show Gru has started to come into his own as a loving father, the way he listens to his girls and tries to explain things to them in ways they’ll understand just plain precious. Even so, Despicable Me 3 is easily the least interesting film in the trilogy, the fact all involved are having such difficulty coming up with many original ideas speaking volumes. Gru and his Minions aren’t bad, at least not yet, but they’re certainly getting close to being drawn that way, and as such it’s likely time the animators got the opportunity to utilize their many talents on something else other than this ongoing series.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)