This is the first Despicable Me film to launch post Minions. Like, the Minions were a bit part in the first film and had a couple of shorts for the DVD. Then came the second (far more Minion heavy title) which was where the world fell in love with them, I’m gonna say largely because the whole rest of that film was pretty threadbare. Since 2013 Illumination have been the Minions Company, kinda an unfair assessment because Sing and Secret Life of Pets have come out in the meantime, but they’re the ones who’ve added the shrieking jellybeans to their title card.
I don’t hate the minions. They’re a good bit sometimes. I just hate the idea of them.
So how does Despicable Me 3 deal with the fact that the custard sacks are by now far more popular and recognisable than any of the main cast? Well, the plot basically ignores them. Hidden inside the ninety minute runtime of the movie is concealed a twenty minutes Minions short film, it’s scattered around all over the place but really, aside from one quick setup scene at the beginning and an equally rushed resolution, they’ve nothing to do with anything else in the entire joint.
Maybe it’s the right decision to make, the most economical. The best decision would have been to either integrate the things or just leave them out. They’re anathema to the film, when their bits work they feel fairly unintrusive, but when they don’t they drop rocks on the whole affair and it stops dead.
In the land of the humans there’s a new supervillain on the scene: Balthazar Bratt (a playful vocal performance by Trey Parker) is this nostalgia addled manbaby who used to play a bad kid on television in the eighties. Now fully grown he’s adapted his on screen persona into a real life evil force in an attempt to once again live out his glory days. It’s a nice bit, and the whole setup has these shades of Mindhorn earlier this year.
I mean, the manbaby thing ain’t anything new, but the interpretation of the character through this mediatised lens that serves to actively critique our engagement in cultural forms of nostalgia is an interesting one. It removes the point of critique from the idleness and stagnation of culture to this new discourse surrounding the active and engaged part of consumption. The person living in the past is no longer switched off, instead they play an active role in maintaining that reality. There’s room for us to develop on this theme I think, it’s a rich vein.
So after failing to apprehend the dude and embarrassing themselves, Gru and Lucy are fired from the Anti Villain League which was this whole big thing in no. 2. Then they’re unemployed for a bit, then Gru’s rich, long-lost, identical twin appears and invites them to the family mansion. You now those films where one actor plays two characters and there’s a lot of fun to be had in seeing them reacting to another themself on screen. Guess why that don’t work in an animated film.
Carell puts in good work as the two brothers, but when you know that all these lines were recorded in a soundproof box months apart it makes it less enjoyable somehow. Anyway their bit is that the brother desperately wants Gru to teach him to be a villain despite the fact that the man had forsaken all his dastardly ways. And that’s most of the film, Lucy’s shoved on down into the box of nagging wife, and the kids have to reside in their own little subplot that connects to just about nothing else.
It all works fine and is inoffensive enough, until you get to those bits which remind you why it was a relief that their past two were animal joints. Cos the film don’t really like people who are different. Fat people, people who perform their gender in a way the filmmakers find offensive, Jewish people, all are portrayed super ungenerously. Like in a way that kids movies should know better than nowadays. Poor taste can be funny but I think we can all agree that children don’t got the most sophisticated palate.
But then bully for them, they’ll probably enjoy some of this. It’s pulling a lot of songs from the established playbook and trying them on for size. Because it can become something completely different when the mood takes it, in a way it’s almost disappointing that it keeps falling down to convention. Illumination are the weird French underdog, they can be wilder than this, they can probably afford to be a little more anarchic at this point. Whenever they come close to the line of being actually subversive though we just snap back to normalcy. Feels like they got more in them than this.
It’s fine, it treads a lot of the same ground of the other two and ends on this note where it feels like the whole thing was just a stop-gap to setup a far more interesting Despicable Me 4 which you know has just gotta be coming. It has Pharrell back on the soundtrack and his pipes are more than charming.
There’s no Happy on this one though, good metaphor for the whole film in some way.
Despicable Me 3 is currently screening in UK cinemas