And here we are at the end of this little retrospective to talk about the newly released third (or fourth, depending if you want to count Minions as canon) instalment within the Despicable Me franchise. And what did I think about it: it was okay.
It wasn’t overly harmful, nor was it particularly bad either. It was just okay. By which I mean it had the usual spark that the previous Despicable Me films had, but it certainly lacked a few key elements, such as structure and a voice. Despicable Me 3 was trying so hard to cling onto the popularity it had built for itself, spanning a mass production of merchandise (heck, it even has a fucking ride built after it for the Universal Studios theme parks), but fell flat on its delivery because it just didn’t know what to fucking do with itself.
There have been countless occasions where films try to cram way too much into its time-frame without considering the consequences of balance and having the relevant time to bring about a solid conclusion that doesn’t feel rushed or unconvincing. Despicable Me 3 is by no means the worst film to do this Hollywood blunder but it doesn’t do itself any favours either. Whilst watching the film I counted how many sub-plots it developed for itself, and the total ended-up being about 6, and the duration was only 90 minutes.
It’s times like these I really wish the creative people behind these films would get their heads out of their arses and realise that quality is just as important as making money, and the tighter the script is the better the product will be, and in earnest, will make you more fucking money. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what I say because if they somehow get money coming back to them (whether it be from the box office or the merchandise sales) they’ll look at it as a successful cash-cow to exploit over and over again until the cow keels over and dies (thus becoming worthless to them).
But, like I said, Despicable Me 3 does (for the most part) come across as harmless fun, to which I will delve into and explain. Gru continues to work for the Anti-Villain League (after the events of Despicable Me 2) working alongside his new bride Lucy. Their latest mission involves them catching new villainous mastermind Balthazar Bratt (who I swear is the best part of the fucking film). But complications arise when it is discovered that Balthazar has eluded Gru time and time again, infuriating Gru to the point where he’s desperately determined to catch him this time round.
Here’s the awesome thing about Balthazar: he’s the perfect embodiment of the 1980s. From his look, to the way he speaks, right down to his fucking movements, he is the 80s. So nearly all of his scenes is accompanied to him moving to the beats of classic 80s anthems (opening up with Michael Jackson‘s “Bad”) as he performs his acts of crimes, and (honestly) this made me really chuckle because I was digging this funky character in all his comedic glory. It got to the point where I honestly wanted more of him (which is one of my main problems with Despicable Me 3).
Another thing I absolutely loved about Balthazar was his voice actor. They got mother-fucking Trey Parker to star in this film. And for those of you who have been living under a rock your whole life, or aren’t aware of American television, or crude (utterly despicable [and yet hilarious]) comedy, he’s the man behind South Park.
And as my partner pointed out when watching this film, she could only hear him as Randy Marsh, made even funnier when he voices his younger-self in flashback sequences when he sounds like a combination of Stan and Cartman. Parker added in so much to this character and the film, elevating Despicable Me 3 into a new level of entertainment within the family genre.
The beginning of this film was exactly how the first teaser trailer panned, with Gru being overpowered by Balthazar’s hip 80s moves, before being flung over the air-carrier and coiled by Balthazar’s expansive chewing-gum, where he hung helpless (and bollock-naked) before a birthday party, with Gru awkwardly singing “Happy Birthday” as he slowly drifted by. It was this kind of humour (though slightly crude, and cheap) that usually made me laugh more, but the rest of the time the comedy either just didn’t land or came across as too childish.
I know, I know, this is a kid’s movie. But I say “fuck-off” to anyone who believes that that phrase can be freely used to justify shit kids films that are devoid of quality and soul. I grew up in the 90s and there was an abundance of great kid’s movies (from both that decade and the previous) all filled with great narratives and life-lessons, which I can still appreciate to this day.
A good kid’s movie (in my eyes) is one that are fun for the kid’s to watch, but intellectually pleasing for the adults (who either understand the themes more personally or have the enjoyment of understanding the sneaked-in adult humour). If you watch a kid’s film as an adult and you look at it as only being a “dumb kid’s film” then it’s clearly not doing it’s job to its full potential.
Yes, you can argue that some things should just be for kids (but the adults still have to endure it whether it’s good or not regardless). Plus you reach a much larger demographic if adults like it too (whether it’s a guilty pleasure or not), not to mention have more appeal and respect for your product because it can be viewed through the eyes of different age-groups, each gaining a different experience and appreciation.
Look at the Disney Pixar films, the majority of those flicks are renowned for their clever writing and direction because they appeal to both kids and adults (so why can’t most kid’s animations hold that standard instead of just letting one studio give us high quality – is it to make Pixar’s movies that bit better because they’re the only good kid’s films out there, or because every other studio is too lazy, thus pushing to only give kid’s crap because they believe they don’t know any better?)
I generally believe that kid’s deserve better quality films, especially since we live in an age where animated films are losing their stride due to Hollywood churning out shit after shit after shit, pandering to the lowest possible demographic, to the point where kids don’t know what quality is anymore, creating a new generation of creative minds that think shit ideas are gold-mines and thus the vicious cycle begins.
Back to Despicable Me 3…
Looking past the mediocre comedy, we have ourselves a narrative looking at Gru and Lucy out of work (having been fired from the AVL for allowing Balthazar to get away [again]) and this does develop some sweet family moments. I continue to love the family dynamic between Margo, Edith, and Agnes, because it is genuinely entertaining and has emotional depth (something the Despicable Me films stride on).
I mean, bless, Agnes sells her favourite unicorn teddy just to make $2 to help out Gru in his financial situation. It was little moments like these that plucked my heart string and made me feel the film had heart. But the structural problems swept in and I started to regurgitate my previous statement.
We are then introduced to the plotline of Gru having a long-lost twin-brother, Dru, and he now he wants to finally meet. And, honestly, this didn’t play-out as well as I hoped. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not too bad but it ain’t great either. I was confused from the publicity as to whether or not Dru’s inclusion would add to the franchise, with his clumsy and camp behaviour being either a comedic addition or an utter annoyance. And to be frank, even the film didn’t know. One minute he added to the amusement of the film whilst at other times he was a complete nuisance.
Plus, this side of the narrative didn’t really go anyway, instead being a really cheap way of making another sequel (if I’m totally honest). The ideas where there on paper but the creative team behind the film just couldn’t think of a clever way of displaying these onscreen (hence why we have so many fucking plots going on at the same time).
It’s like Despicable Me 3 was really nervous about which direction it wanted to go in, struggling to find an identity beyond it’s current success and so blended two movie-worth of ideas into one 90 minute flick (and it didn’t pay-off satisfyingly).
Dru is a nice contrast for Gru (for sure) but he’s little more than an extension of Gru’s character, and a means to draw him back into villainy, playing on his desires as he faces his conflicting thoughts. But here’s the thing, there’s not much dilemma to face because Gru is rather content on remaining the hero (having already thrown away his villain’s cape in Despicable Me) and has no real reason to change his mind now.
You’d think we’d get this clichéd narrative about him conflicting between his brother and his wife, but no, Despicable Me 3 plays it so safe that there isn’t even a real conflicting narrative to worry about.
It’s a just a series of events that just happen and the narrative runs along accordingly. Nothing properly ties together until the film deems it necessary, and that’s when I quickly realised that this film’s structure is fucked, devoid of any proper direction, and when I could see it I became irritated that it didn’t go anyway (or had no real relevance).
I mean, it had a perfect opportunity to play on the fact that both Gru and Dru where hated by their respective parent, which would’ve added so much depth to their cruel childhoods and neglect, but completely ignores this possibility (meaning Dru lacks any real spark to bounce off Gru, particularly during their later argument [which ultimately felt shallow and devoid of any real context]).
You could even argue that Gru had completely no reason to side with Dru as he was always loyal to Lucy, making this entire subplot even more pointless because (again) there’s no dilemma for Gru to face.
In the meantime, you have Lucy trying to awkwardly become a mother to the girls, and honestly, this part was cringe-worthy because her character was so over-the-top in this film, making every ounce of dialogue and movements from Lucy just completely bad. Maybe her whacky behaviour might appeal to children, but it certainly doesn’t do anything for me and let down a huge portion of the plot.
Plus, her absence made Gru’s dilemma even less conflicting because she’s not there to fucking confront Gru on his actions with his brother. She asks one time what he’s been up to, the two brothers clownishly hide their intents, before Lucy randomly discovers their activities for convenience-sake and quickly tells Gru off and then it’s brushed aside like it never fucking mattered.
But, then again, she had nothing to be mad at because Gru used Dru to steal the diamond back off Balthazar (oh, he’s still in this film… somewhere…) in order to get his and Lucy’s jobs back. And even when it came to the scene of Dru confronting Gru on his betrayal it just had no depth (especially when Gru could cruelly call Dru a failure because their father thought so without Dru being able to bounce back and say, “Well mother thought the same about you.”)
Then you had a subplot where Agnes is searching for a unicorn (to which, I will admit, had it’s sweet moments, and it is always nice to see her happy because she’s a cute character) and the Minions are sent to prison. Oh yeah, there’s Minions in this film. Despite being the main selling point of this franchise the Minions are almost completely absent from Despicable Me 3, switching back to them when the film started to feel flat and needed some stupid comedy to lift the spirits.
The Minions decide their fed-up with Gru’s good behaviour and bail on him, to which they end-up randomly caught in the middle of a song competition (performing a whacky musical number [though it felt completely out of place]) before being arrested. The Minions have some fun scenes in which they randomly take over the place (but I wouldn’t get your hopes up for anything too hilarious because you’ve already seen it all in the trailers or there’s not that much to expect because these scenes are fleeting).
And, for convenience sake, the Minions decide they were wrong and need Gru, ultimately escaping prison (as quickly as they ended-up there) and catch-up with their master just in time to help out for the final confrontation with Balthazar.
And it was in this final stretch of the film were I really reflected how much this film was a wasted opportunity because it tried too much and failed at everything (except Balthazar – he was a fucking legend). There was just no real structure to this film, and certainly not enough time and effort given to expanding and developing each of the subplots, with each of them forcing themselves to conclude without any real pay-off.
For example, Gru and Dru have an argument over the fact that Gru betrayed Dru, and then in the next scene their happy brothers again because the girls need rescuing and Gru says “he’s sorry”. Forced resolution much?
But at least we got a grand battle to end this convoluted (and somewhat pointless) sequel as Gru and Dru battle a giant robot. I’m not even fucking kidding, this is what seriously happens, and (honestly) I’m okay with this because it perfectly suits Balthazar’s character. In fact, his part of the film is not only the best because I loved his character so much, but because he had actual character development and an actual story to tell.
It’s a stupid-arse story, but that’s what makes his character better because he’s so whacky. Because his shitty 80s television series (where he starred as a child super-villain) is cancelled Balthazar takes up a real life of villainy, now wanting to re-enact one of his episodes in which he sends Hollywood into space. You can’t get much bolder than that.
Say, Despicable Me 3 isn’t the worst kid’s film out there, and actually sits as the second best in the franchise (but considering how I felt about Despicable Me, with Despicable Me 2 being the clear winner for obvious reasoning [and don’t get me started on Minions], it doesn’t real help in my ranking) but it just really annoyed me that the structure was so bad, making what could’ve been a really thought-out film (and a perfect continuation to the franchise) be just another mindless animated comedy that’s just there to make kids laugh at dumb imagery.