Despicable Me still stands as one of the most innovative, unique, and heartfelt animated movies ever made. It took a creative premise- bad guy adopts three little girls to help out with his villainy- and added even more creativity through layered storytelling and stylistic touches.
Despicable Me 2 was a forgettable sequel, but it still showcased the very specific style that Illumination animation has.
Then there was Minions. We don’t talk about that film.
But I still had faith. Despicable Me 3 could be a return to form. Never mind that it was going to do the lazy move (in my opinion) of introducing a surprise twin brother. There was still a chance!
Or so I hoped.
Despicable Me 3 operates more as a series of vignettes than a singular story. Each of the characters go off on little solo missions. If you were to choose an A-plot, though, it would be the newly married Gru, Lucy, and daughters Margo, Edith, and Agnes going off to meet Gru’s newly discovered twin brother Dru. In a nice change of pace, Dru isn’t an evil twin. Sure, he wants to be evil, but he isn’t the exact opposite of Gru. He’s more of a whiny, please release Steve Carell from the recording studio version of Gru. As the brothers learn to get along, Lucy tries to bond with her stepdaughters. The family reunion goes south when they are threatened by rejected ‘80s child star villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker).
The signature Illumination animation is still breathtaking after three movies. Each location is gorgeously animated. The action sequences have a rube goldberg-like quality, and there are small, clever details in each piece of weaponry the villains and agents in the movie use. The exaggerated style of the character designs are similar to that of a quirky children’s book. Also, along with this film and Hidden Figures, Pharrell proves that he should be in charge of all movie soundtracks.
But the children’s book analogy works against the film, too. It has style, and a cute factor, but very little substance. The film’s message about family goes only so far as the previous films have gone. The brotherhood angle is used much more as a vehicle for visual jokes than any meaningful commentary. Even Gru’s existential questions about not living up to his potential and his family’s legacy is quickly forgotten by the next fart joke. The movie tries to appeal to adults through ‘80s nostalgia and scenes with Gru and Lucy trying to parent, but there is really no point to the scenes except to exist. Since they are so disjointed from the film, they don’t even serve the plot. They are cute, but that certainly won’t keep an adult entertained, and little kids won’t find it exciting.
Overall, the film is a missed opportunity, and lacks the stronger direction of certainly the first film, but even the second. It’s sloppy, when it has every advantage not to be.
I have to admit, I felt a little sentimental watching Despicable Me 3. I’ve seen all the movies in theaters, from little ten year old me in 2010 for the first film, to the second one in 2013. Now I’m 17 years old, driving my sister and friend to the movie theater in my own car, and we’re the only teenagers in the audience; but who cares, because supervillain family.
Unfortunately, this kid’s movie may have pushed me closer towards being a cynical adult. I’ve never automatically been skeptical about sequels and trilogies and so on. I’m the person who has advanced tickets for the 16th Marvel movie next week. However, this is certainly not the first time I’ve been disappointed by a franchise. It just hurt a little more. There is too much talent involved for this level of sloppiness, and kids deserve the same quality entertainment everyone does. Don’t we want them to love good films, too?