Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Screenplay: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate, Julie Andrews
Runtime: 90 Minutes
It feels pretty futile to throw any kind of constructive criticism at the Despicable Me franchise anymore. The high grossing animated blockbuster bullies that are these films consume enough money each time to feed an entire small country, and their function as distractions for bored children and desperate parents in the summertime is built into their DNA –yellow and blue strands of ridged obedience and nonsense noises and images that at first seemed offbeat and cute, but now dominates the Hollywood animations like a regressive and autonomous sickness.
This isn’t to throw a massive deal of shade at Despicable Me 3 or the people that will pay to sit through it, but the deficiency of imagination on display has let the elements that would once be allowed to slide by all the more noticeable and obnoxious.
The plot here deals with Gru (Steve Carell) meeting up with his long-lost twin brother, Dru, and his slide back into the villainous ways that the arc of the first film attempted to stamp out. The dryness of the concept usually reserved for soap operas is played for the easiest laughs possible that wouldn’t require a great amount of visual invention, which clearly couldn’t be afforded by Illumination Entertainment’s basic and textureless digital animation style. Nothing feels drawn and ever looks as good or as funny as it should, which is worse when every conceptual comedy bit that could have been amusing if left alone is driven into the ground until it’s not anymore.
Take Trey Parker as the new antagonist, Balthazar Bratt. A supervillain and former child star who grows up to become obsessed with the character he played in the '80s and is bent on world domination. He gets a neat and packed introduction of retro references, old televisions and tape decks with synth-heavy musical moments, but what could be an isolated gag is dragged out over the runtime into the typical action finale of saving kids in peril.
The amount of padding is staggering even from something that only runs at nearly 90 minutes. The Minions have long outstayed their welcome in popular culture anyway, but as opposed to their balance in the second film where the plot actually gave them a point while using them enough to appease fans without becoming annoying, here they have nothing to do and go off on their own prison adventure that squanders their silent cinema comedy styling’s.
Even the vocal performances from Wiig and Carell sound bored, and moments where their characters are supposed to be surprised or excited just come across as sarcastic – with the same extending to Parker’s villain, although he hides it rather well through a veil of vocalised nihilism so familiar to his South Park work. New characters are introduced and then dispensed of immediately (a wasted performance from Jenny Slate), and the sound mix in the first act is headache inducing as Pharrell Williams’ monotonous pop tracks play loudly one after the other over dialogue scenes.
Despicable Me 3 is an undemanding watch, but it’ll take a great amount of patience from those expecting something more at this point. It’s more of the same and it’s getting tired, with the series clearly peaking back with the second film. Character arcs come and go, the figures arrive and others unceremoniously leave, and then it’s loud and juvenile and keeps going till it runs out of things to do for another year. It’s never harmful, but there are a lot better animated family films already this year.