Directed By: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda
Written By: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy
Starring: Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker
Two films and a spinoff in, and The Despicable Me franchise has established such an indominable storytelling bedrock that the series is virtually bullet proof; intoxicating madcap energy, irresistible cuteness; sincere goodwill; and the trustiest comedic aid in all of cinema, those incorrigible little minions.
The latest film under the Despicable banner, Despicable Me 3, checks these core boxes, and as such, is never less than inoffensive, chucklesome family fun. The more unfortunate reality for such a resonating, megahit franchise (boasting the highest grossing film in Universal’s 100 plus year history) is that its latest instalment strains to be more than inoffensive, chucklesome family fun.
DM3 is too evidently a sequel, meaning it overcompensates with frills and plot in a concerted effort to trump its predecessors. The film’s duel tandems (Piere Coffin and Kyle Balda directing, Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy writing) succumb to the mentality that sequels should be BIGGER and BETTER; it’s the former of those ambitions that’s problematic. “Bigger” is a toxic misconception, particularly when a film originates from a premise as fundamentally intimate as that of Despicable Me: a man growing into his role as father.
Having exhausted its originality, the series now merely opts to do more, busying itself with extraneous plot threads and characteristic lunacy. It opens with an introduction to criminal mastermind Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker- gearing his vocal talents towards an audience younger than his custom), at one time the child-star of a 1980s smash series in which he played a pre-pubessant supervillain, now a has-been stuck in the decade of his fame. Bratt slips nicely into the Despicable saga’s brand of vibrant madness—sporting a fabulously horrendous mullet/flattop/bald spot combination, and dancing his way through elaborate heists modelled upon his former show, all performed to the seminal pop/rock tunes of his vintage. Bratt ups the crazy by drawing offense from bubble-gum shooting shoulder pads and supersonic keytars—he comfortably satiates the far out requirements of a franchise whose mascots take the form of a banana craving, goggle wearing, overall clad, gibberish speaking clan of obsessive midget henchmen.
As the antagonist, Bratt has Gru’s number. The megalomaniac-turned-nice-guy finds himself exiled from the Anti-Villain League for his failure to thwart Bratt’s theft of the world’s largest diamond. Lucy (Kristen Wiig, reprising her role as Gru’s improbable love interest) also finds herself ousted for the failure, leaving the pair at sea as they tend to their unaged trio of children- the persistently adorable Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Nev Scharrel respectively.)
The story shifts gears with the emergence of Dru, Gru’s long lost, playful, white clad, full-head-of-flowing-blonde-hair twin brother. Dru summons Gru to his lavish estate following the passing of their father, but with ulterior motives. Dru hopes his mastermind sibling will be able to coach him into a becoming a mastermind of his own, one that their criminally ingenious father could be proud of.
The inclusion of a figure from the protagonist’s past is a staple of sequels, from the arrival of Indianna Jones’s father in the The Last Crusade, to the recent resurfacing of Pete Quill’s celestial parent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. What destabilises the story of Despicable Me 3 is the slew of sub-stories that surround Gru and Dru. Once the Gru clan arrive at Dru’s island they are each given their own course in the narrative to pursue. Whilst Bratt puts his diabolical scheme into effect and Dru and Gru attempt to reunite, Agnes and Edith embark on a quest of their own to find a unicorn, Lucy attempts to build a motherly rapport with Margo, Margo finds herself at the centre of a German boy’s affections, Gru’s now famous/infamous minions lead their own series of misadventures after they abandon their creator for going soft, all whilst Gru hatches a scheme to recover the stolen diamond and regain his job.
The weight of the superfluous plot threads is ultimately too much for Despicable Me 3’s foundation. It’s subtraction by addition; with each new strand of story the characters are more and more diluted, doomed to sudden developments and inconsistent growth.
And yet, there is that niggling charm, that enduring comedic appeal which buoys the film and keeps its head above water. Where many films are plagued by a ceiling, Despicable Me 3 is so comedically assured with its larger than life characters and kinetic stylings, that it rather finds itself blessed with a base. It’s just a shame that the film’s battalion of creators use this base as a crutch rather than a launching point.