VOD film review: Despicable Me 3
Mark Harrison | On 07, Nov 2017Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
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The Despicable Me movies have always felt like cousins of Shrek – colourful, fast-paced animated comedies that rehabilitate a villainous character (although Steve Carell’s Gru is a supervillain rather than a fairytale baddy) as the hero through his interpersonal relationships. And so, it feels sadly inevitable that the third instalment is a bit of a duffer.
Like its predecessors in years past, Despicable Me 3 is one of the biggest movies of the year, grossing over a billion dollars and running for months on end in cinemas ahead of its home entertainment release. And, like Shrek The Third, it is unquestionably the weakest entry in the franchise to date, despite bringing back characters who were much missed in the 2015 spin-off Minions.
Picking up where the second movie left off, the threequel finds Gru and his new wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), feeling assured in their power couple role as agents of the Anti Villain League until they run up against former-child-star-turned-80s-obsessed-supervillain Balthasar Bratt (Trey Parker). For reasons that aren’t quite clear, their new boss (Jenny Slate) terminates both of them immediately, after an embarrassing encounter with their new foe.
But both are distracted from their employment situation and the still-at-large Bratt by an unexpected summons from Gru’s long-lost twin brother, Dru (also Carell), who lives in the distant country of Freedonia (a hat-tip to Duck Soup) and fantasises about being as good a villain as the pre-reformed Gru and their father. Reluctantly, Gru bonds with Dru over technological mischief while keeping his family in the dark about his return to form.
It’s disappointing to see the new instalment go so awry. Minions missed the family dynamic of Gru, Lucy, Agnes, Edith and Margo, but in bringing them back here, Despicable Me 3 hardly ever uses that dynamic, instead splitting them up and overbalancing the film with subplots. Moreover, it stretches its running jokes to breaking point in the process. Carell’s vocal performance as an unspecifically European curmudgeon is one of the consistently funny parts of the films, so here, we get his twin doing a higher pitched version of the same, creating a shrieking and annoying new character who dominates most of the film. Elsewhere and more randomly, Agnes’ unicorn obsession mutates into an entire laugh-free side-quest involving pigs and goats.
The new villain is a funny send-up of craven 80s nostalgia, but the child-star-gone-megolomaniac isn’t meant to be the main draw here, the film doesn’t properly use the novelty of Parker doing voice work outside of South Park. His Bratt is involved in most of the funniest scenes, but there’s not enough of him. Wiig, Slate and Julie Andrews, meanwhile, are all similarly underused, as the film lavishes screentime on Carell bickering with himself.
What’s interesting is that there’s no Minion fatigue to speak of here. They’re still voiced by Chris Renaud and co-director Pierre Coffin, babbling for all they’re worth, and if you’ve never found them funny, this won’t miraculously change your mind. But for those who are on board, the inspired silliness of a Gilbert and Sullivan-flavoured musical number gets the biggest laughs here, and the cutaways to their attempts to escape prison mark the best of the myriad subplots.
Despicable Me 3 isn’t weaker because it’s “meant for kids”, but because the more scattershot, by-numbers approach to this instalment leaves it feeling baggy and convoluted. It’s the shortest of the franchise, over within 90 minutes flat, but it meanders over plot points that make it feel much slower. If Tex Avery and Looney Tunes are the series’ animated touchstones, then this sketchy, feature-length instalment only shows that this series may be best in small doses in the future.