More is less in Despicable Me 3

By Liam Lacey

Despicable Me 3’s glaring weakness is its redundancy. By the third animated movie about a reformed super-villain-turned-suburban dad, you’d think that Felonious Gru, the beetle-like misfit with the Bela Lugosi accent, would have undergone self-esteem help.

In other words, isn’t it time for Acceptable Me?

 Gru: Still despicable after all these years

Gru: Still despicable after all these years

The movie itself could also afford to lose a lot of baggage. After beginning in mid-action, the story accelerates from manic to panic as it juggles more than a half-dozen plotlines. The central plot follows Gru (Steve Carell), who loses his job at the Anti-Villain League and subsequently gets invited to Europe to meet his newly-discovered twin-brother, Dru (also voiced by Steve Carell), who has luxuriant blonde hair and white suits and is anxious to learn all the tricks of super-villainy. 

Meanwhile, Gru’s new life-partner is a former Anti-Villain League agent, the gangly and over-sharing Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), who is trying to find her step-mom balance of unconditional tolerance and tough-love guardianship of Gru’s adopted daughters, Agnes, Edith and Margo (who also get their own stories.)

 Many Minions later...

Many Minions later...

Then there’s a separate narrative for the Minions, Gru’s tiny, gibbering pill-shaped assistants,  who had their own billion-dollar-grossing spin-off, Minions, last year. Enraged when their boss won’t return to villainy, they run away from home, audition for an American Idol-esque contest and end up in a prison drama.

There’s also the new villain, Balthazar Bratt (South Park’s Trey Parker) a preening former eighties’ child star in a Joe Dirt mullet-and-stache, who dresses in what looks like a purple Rayon suit, shoots lasers with his Keytar and dispenses bubble-gum bombs from his shoulder-pads. In a joke purloined from Zoolander, he’s always down for a “dance fight.”

In a series where the incipient chaos of the mob-like Minions is the built-in joke, it's too much to hope for order. As an adult, though, sometimes you just want to shut your ears and stare at the scenery.

From that perspective, Despicable Me 3 is more satisfying, and sporadically delightful. French artist , former production designer Eric Guillon, has been elevated to the status of “codirector” with the series’ directors, Pierre Coffinf and Kyle Balda, which emphasized how much the Despicable Me movies depend on visual tone. 

 The series has always had a zany retro visual sensibility, showing such influences as Edward Gorey, Jay Ward’s The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and the old Looney Tunes cartoons. There are moments here to tickle the eyeballs:  including the Minions’ steampunk airship, with toilets for seats, and a prison-stripe fabric for the balloon. In one disaster-movie parody sequence, the signs on imaginary Hollywood buildings fly by like book spines in a collapsing library. I also like that Dru’s Versaille-like estate is incongruously within a German chocolate-box hamlet,  and located next to the French Riviera. Did they hire Michael Bay as a location scout?

The movie’s conclusion threatens to bring us another Despicable sequel, which is an idea I won’t dismiss. I mean, I could take more, if they’d only try to do less.

Despicable Me 3. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda and co-directed by Eric Guillon. Written by Ken Daurio, and Cinco Paul. Starring Steve Carrel, Kristen Wiig and Trey Parker.  Despicable Me 3 can be seen at Cineplex Yonge- Dundas, Cineplex Yonge-Eglinton, Cineplex Yorkdale, Carlton Cinema, Market Square, and other theatres.


Liam Lacey

Liam Lacey is a former film critic for The Globe and Mail, as well as contributor to various other media outlets over the past 37 years.. He recently returned to Canada from Spain because he forgot about the weather