Despicable Me 3 (United States, 2017)

June 30, 2017
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Despicable Me 3 Poster

Despicable Me 3 is an example of how even the most promising animated franchises can hit a wall if allowed to continue too long. One can understand why Universal greenlit this film. The previous two (or three if you count the spin-off Minions) made a ton of money. Kids and adults loved them. Financially, there’s no argument to be made against the development of this sequel. Creatively… well, that’s another matter. The first two Despicable Me movies formed a full character arc. They told the entirety of Gru’s story. To add a third film to the series, the filmmakers were forced to re-mine familiar territory while adding extraneous material. To an adult, Despicable Me 3 seems pointless, redundant, and even a little desperate. The charm is gone. Kids, on the other hand, will reactive positively, but they approach movies like this from a different perspective. For younger, viewers, this is a chance to spend some time with old friends. It offers humor, action, and adventure. However, while Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 were made with viewers of all ages in mind, Despicable Me 3 is targeted primarily at the under-10 crowd (with jokes to match). Aside from a soundtrack stuffed with ‘80s songs, there’s little here to appeal to anyone born before the turn of the century.

When Minions disappointed relative to pre-release expectations, autopsies identified the problem as the absence of Gru. The Steve Carell-voiced character, they reasoned, was as important an ingredient as his squeaky yellow friends. Universal had mistakenly assumed that the Minions were the reason for the success of the first two films. I suppose the box office will tell whether this was an accurate analysis but Despicable Me 3 feels more like Minions than its same-title predecessors. The “spark” is gone; the cash cow is going through the motions. Few animated franchises make it to installment #3 without a marked decline in quality; Toy Story is an outlier.

There is a story, although it’s fragmented into several pieces. When Gru (Carell) and his new wife, Lucy (Kristin Wiig), are fired from their jobs at the AVL, Gru finds himself at loose ends. Enter his long-lost twin, Dru (also Carell), who wants to team up with his brother for one epic criminal escapade. While Gru and Dru are bonding and preparing for their nefarious caper, which involves stealing a diamond from noted bad guy and notorious moonwalker Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Lucy begins to suspect that her husband may be veering from the straight-and-narrow. Meanwhile, the Minions, left on their own, end up in prison where they subjugate the entire population. And Gru’s two youngest kids go off on a unicorn quest.

All of that doesn’t sound substantive enough to fill up 90 minutes and it really isn’t. Despicable Me 3 feels more like an extended cartoon than a full-length feature. It’s less ambitious and colorful in every way than the earlier two films. The animation is workmanlike but isn’t going to challenge Cars 3 as the most richly detailed animated experience of the summer. (Although I found the end credit Pink Panther homage to be enjoyable.) Pharrell Williams provides a few new songs that, despite being suitable to the scenes in which they play, don’t stick in the memory. They, like pretty much everything else in Despicable Me 3, are forgettable.

Still, although the film isn’t a must-see for older viewers, it fills a niche. It’s a perfectly reasonable option for a family movie outing and isn’t so bad that adults will cringe. The familiarity of Gru and the Minions buys them a certain amount of goodwill and I’d be hard-pressed to find a child who will vilify Despicable Me 3. Having passed through its creative stage, the franchise has become a brand and, as such, it delivers what its core group of consumers want. Too bad that, unlike its predecessors, it’s unable to reach a little further. Going forward, it’s time to retire Gru and give the Minions their own series of shorts – a medium for which they are perfectly suited. But gross box office receipts will determine whether others feel the same.

Despicable Me 3 (United States, 2017)

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate
Home Release Date: 2017-12-05
Screenplay: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Music: Heitor Pereira, Pharrell Williams
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2017-06-30
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Minion Nudity)
Genre: Animated
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1