Movie Review: Despicable Me 3 (Universal)

The only reason I can think of to make Balthazar Bratt—the villain in Despicable Me 3—a deranged child star from the 1980s, is to tweak the nostalgia of the parents […]

The only reason I can think of to make Balthazar Bratt—the villain in Despicable Me 3—a deranged child star from the 1980s, is to tweak the nostalgia of the parents who will bring their kids to see the movie. 

Rubik’s Cubes.  Shoulder pads.  Break dancing.  “Sussudio” and “Bad” and “Take on Me.”  This stuff’s right in my forty-something wheelhouse.  But if the audience at the screening I attended is any indication, the parents of the kids who’ll want to see Despicable Me 3 are mid- to late-thirty-somethings and perhaps a shade too young to appreciate the various anachronistic gags except intellectually.  The adults around me smiled and nodded, but I didn’t hear them laugh much.  But who cares?  Adults aren’t the target audience here.

Unfortunately, the kids in the theater didn’t laugh a lot either, at the ’80’s jokes or anything else.  In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times there was general laughter in the room.  The rest of the time there was silence and the occasional murmur of subdued chuckles.  Were the kids tired?  Bored?  Confused?

Despicable Me 3 can be a little confusing, although the plot is dead simple.  Gru tries to stop Balthazar Bratt from stealing the world’s biggest diamond; gets fired, along with his wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy, from the Anti-Villain League for failing to do so; learns he has a twin brother, Dru, who wants to be a villain and wants Gru to teach him how; decides to teach Dru the ropes by re-stealing the diamond from Balthazar Bratt, but only as a way of getting back his and Lucy’s jobs at AVL, which he doesn’t tell Dru, which leads to mild fraternal strife; saves the day, eventually, and reconciles with Dru.  (There’s a subplot involving Lucy’s learning to be a mother to Gru’s adopted kids, Agnes, Margo, and Edith, and another about young Agnes’s search for a unicorn, but I’d be surprised if these two storylines together comprised three pages of script.  They barely qualify as distractions, let alone narratives, which is too bad, because the unicorn bit wants to say something about the disparity between our hopes and reality, and about the importance of being able to enjoy what we have instead of pining for what we don’t.  Not a bad message for kids to hear.  Would two more pages of script really have been too much to ask for?)

What’s confusing is the spastic tumult of onscreen action, which seems calculated to keep the viewer, young or old, from figuring out what’s happening before the next physics-defying whirl of light-speed choreography turns everything upside down.  My guess is that the kids gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on after a while and was content to wait for the Minions to make another appearance.  Maybe I’m just projecting.

The Minions get a subplot of their own in Despicable Me 3.  After Gru is fired, they joyfully assume that he’s going back to villainy.  When Gru refuses to go bad again, Mel the Minion, like the offspring of Jimmy Hoffa and a lemon Tic Tac, leads his comrades in a walkout.  Then, periodically, we see the Minions on their post-Gru travels.  The funniest scene in the movie has them wander onto the set of an American Idol-like TV show and bring the house down with an elaborate musical number.  (Who’d have thought that that bizarre Esperanto of theirs would lend itself so nicely to song?)  Also funny is seeing the Minions get incarcerated . . . and immediately take over their cellblock.  They’re harder little felons than they look, evidently.  And as long as they’re used as supporting characters, to keep their one-note silliness from getting repetitive, they’ll always be funny.

None of the entries in the Despicable Me franchise is what you’d call inspired.  Where Pixar makes movies that often feel like passion projects, Illumination Entertainment turns out product.  And that’s okay.  The kids in the theater with me weren’t climbing the walls with excitement, but they did pay attention all the way through.  That has to count for something.  And adults may find Despicable Me 3, with its sloppy amiability and near total lack of substance, an enjoyable escape from the news for ninety minutes, give or take.  Whether they’ll remember anything about Despicable Me 3 ninety minutes after they’ve seen it is another matter entirely and maybe beside the point.

About Harold Davis