Too many storylines, not enough Minions in ‘Despicable Me 3’
Directed by: Eric Guillon, Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Written by: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, and Julie Andrews
“Despicable Me 3” – When thinking about the “Despicable Me” series, what is the first image that pops into your mind? Minions, right?
Those pintsized, yellow, pill-shaped, lovable devils have caused hilarious havoc in three previous animated adventures, including their own film, “Minions” (2015). As entertaining as this collection of miscreants can be, Minions are best served in small, steady and frequent doses. The best film in the series is the second one (2013), in which they were wholly integral to the main narrative but did not dominate the story. In that movie, the main villain, El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), applies a sinister serum that turns our little “heroes” into purple, violent maniacs.
“Despicable Me 2” (2013) found that sweet spot, a balance between not enough Minion-screen time and too much. With “Despicable Me 3”, directors Eric Guillon, Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin have found balance, not with the Minions, but in a different fashion. In fact, in a very rare life instance, they have ironically applied way too much balance, and the picture suffers.
After some unknown time from the second picture, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are a happy couple, together at work - as agents for the Anti-Villain League (a.k.a. AVL) - and at
home with the three girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes. They are nestled into a wonderful existence, but the new AVL head unceremoniously fires both Gru and Lucy. To make matters worse, the Minions leave Gru as well, citing grievances for not enough villainy in their mentor’s new happy life.
With some semblance of good news, Gru discovers that he has a twin, a long-lost brother named Dru (Steve Carell as well). So, he, Lucy, the girls, and a pair of Minions (who stuck around) promptly leave for some place called Freedonia, and they meet Dru, who seems quite agreeable and giddy to catch up for lost time with his sibling. Conflict arises, however, when Dru wishes to take up a life of crime and learn from the best, his brother, but Gru’s somewhat recent turn as a good guy creates quite the pickle for him in Freedonia.
The film fashions quite a pickle for the audience, because writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio jam about 1,000,006 stories into a movie that is listed as 1 hour 30 minutes, but with a quick, unscientific glance at my watch - while in theatre - it only ran for 1 hour 25 minutes. “Despicable Me 3” apparently is the shortest film in the series, but with so many plot threads, it never devotes enough time in developing any of them. It seems that Guillon, Balda and Coffin hoped to tender the same commitment to “every” character, but to the audience’s detriment. Lucy struggles with her role as a mom, Gru grapples with his brother’s criminal intensions, Agnes endlessly drones on and on about finding a unicorn, and the Minions drift on their own, attempting to discover a new purpose.
I have not even mentioned the main villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), whose heart still pines for the 1980s, as he routinely wears a Members Only-like jacket, sports a mullet and dances to classic pop from his favorite musical era. The filmmakers and Parker designed a very imaginative baddie who is intentionally annoying but assuredly captures our attention. On the other hand, with all the time – basically – squandered on the pointless fodder in Freedonia, Bratt hardly graces the screen. In fact, at one point, it felt like 30 minutes dragged on without a second of Bratt and his evil deeds appearing in the film.
One may suppose that the “Despicable Me” team collectively decided that the story’s heartbeat should be Gru and his family’s progression as cartoon-human beings, but the truth is that the weakest link in the series is Gru and the three girls. This film feeds us a steady diet of them and their issues, and with Dru now involved in the mix, second helpings appear on the menu too. Out of 1 hour and 25 minutes, the film sadly summons about 20 minutes of entertainment for adults. Bratt offers scores of 1980s references with the accompanying soundtrack, and his trademark saying “I’ve been a bad boy” brings back knee slapping memories of “I’d buy that for a dollar” from the original “Robocop” (1987) picture. The precious minutes that the Minions do reach the screen are thankfully not wasted, including a hilariously elaborate prison scene, but we needed more of the little guys.
As previously mentioned, the picture finds balance, but by equitably including everyone throughout the story, this equilibrium tips the film-scale towards a dull and uninspired cinematic effort. Too much balance? Yes, just don’t mention this to my yoga instructor.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.