The Despicable Me franchise represents one of those rare occasions where the spinoff characters became far more popular than the main character. Illumination swiftly turned into an animation powerhouse during the last seven years on the backs of the Minions, those annoyingly cute sentient yellow Dr. Mario pills whose inoffensive slapstick antics are welcome in 30-second bursts, but quickly become grating when we’re forced to sit through an entire feature full of them.
In the first Despicable Me, they were supposed to work as an occasional distraction, to give the plot some breathing space and let the kids giggle at some colorful silliness. But their inexplicably massive popularity led to them leaving the franchise’s intended protagonist, the villain-turned-good-guy Eastern-European Bond villain stereotype Gru (Voiced by Steve Carell), effortlessly in the dust. Illumination is firmly aware of the audience’s craving for the most lucrative yellow cartoon cash cow since The Simpsons, so the third entry in the Despicable Me franchise offers a bountiful variety of episodic Minions sketches that have pretty much nothing to do with the main plot, and can be completely excised from the final product in pure narrative terms, leaving us with a 45-minute short.
Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, who previously helmed 2015’s stand-alone Minions movie, use a flimsily constructed sub-plot that shows the Minions going on adventures on their own, after being dissatisfied with Gru leaving his super villain days in the past (Which is funny, since they didn’t seem to mind that much in the second film). It’s an excuse to plaster the company’s brand representatives into as many disconnected vignettes as possible. You want to see the Minions appear on American Idol? How about as a 1950s Broadway musical version of a prison gang?
Of course, the fact that all of these different settings allow them to adorn the creatures with instantly marketable outfits had nothing to do with this decision. Will the minions come back in the third act to help Gru out of his predicament? Regardless of whether or not you’re their number one fan or can’t stand them, do you actually care if they affect the plot in the slightest? The main reason for Despicable Me 3 to exist is to deliver a methadone of sorts to fans jonesing for Minions gags until their second stand alone box-office juggernaut is released in 2020.
So what about poor Gru, who’s supposed to be our focal point here? Well, what we get is strictly more of the same as Despicable Me 2. The creators of the first film wrote themselves into a corner when they completed Gru’s character arc from villain to good guy. So the second film cynically added a love interest, the steadfast villain-hunter Lucy (Kristin Wiig), for him to pursue over the course of the super thin plot. The third entry adds a long-lost brother, Dru (Also Steve Carell), Gru’s blonde-haired trust fund brat identical twin who strives to get him back to his villainous days. (By the time we get to numbers six and seven, we’ll be introduced to second cousins and twice-removed Facebook friends.) Gru’s relationship with Dru brings up some opportunities for a modicum of generic overarching story development. Yet, perhaps fearing that the kids can’t handle much negativity from their beloved characters, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio immediately resolve any conflict they introduce into the story, without much suspense or build-up.
Gru seems to be annoyed by his brother the first time he meets him. Will he learn to love his brother, warts and all, or will he revert back to… Oh nevermind, they’re best friends within a minute of screen time. After being fired from The Anti Villain League for failing to capture Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), an ‘80s-obsessed, ex-child-star-turned-super-villain who vows to destroy Hollywood after they canceled his show, Gru agrees to go back to his villainous days with Dru. Will he actually turn into a villain, or is he using this opportunity to concoct a brilliant… Oops, forget about that, we’re shown his true motivation directly after this conflict is introduced. Meanwhile, Gru’s three adopted daughters (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel) get their own brief and disconnected sub-plots squeezed in there, presumably after the producers remembered their existence, while the film was already deep in production.
As much as I love to harp on Despicable Me 3’s lazy and cynical execution, this is a fairly inoffensive, zippy and colorful time-waster for the little ones. Even though the character is obviously created to exploit the parents’ nostalgia for the ‘80s, Balthazar Bratt is a fun villain who looks and acts like the embodiment of VH1’s I Love The ‘80s, and some of the campy ‘60s spy flick-style action set pieces are inventive enough on their own, especially the finale that cleverly sends-up old Kaiju films. That being said, if you want to see an over-the-top superhero cartoon adventure that’s equally entertaining and ingenious for children and adults, be sure to check out Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Writer: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker
Release Date: June 30, 2017