The latest installment of the franchise is easily forgotten, but its little yellow stars will never be.
The villain of Despicable Me 3 is a former child star from the ’80s whose show was cancelled, leaving him with no purpose in life. Thirty years later, he’s planning his revenge on Hollywood, sporting the same mullet hairdo and shoulder-padded jumpsuit, now armed with a sonic keytar that’ll literally knock the pants off you. What seems like just an excuse to please parents with Reagan-era tunes and other nostalgic fodder, is really a hint that we should never let go of our beloved toys and fads from childhood. Because they all come back, worse than before.
Intentional or not, Universal is subtly threatening that if we ever make them cancel the Despicable Me franchise, particularly its Minions characters, the property will just return when our children are older and haunt us with an awful reboot, probably in live-action form. Like we’ve seen with the ’80s cartoons Transformers, The Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe. Actually, most of these have been around consistently in various small-screen and action figure forms for decades, but adults haven’t been bombarded with their presence. There will surely be a Minions animated TV series in due time.
That’s all the kids really want anyway, is Minions. And frankly, they’re the best part of the Despicable Me franchise. Sure, they’re crude and immature with their fart jokes and Looney Tunes violence, but slapstick always has a place in the world. Tired, forgettable kid-movie plots and characters do not. The original Despicable Me has an interesting and heartwarming enough premise, with an evil villain going soft because three adorable orphans enter his life. Everything since then involving Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his girls, Margo, Edith, and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Nev Scharrel — replacing Elsie Fisher in part three), is forced random plotting.
And the latest installment has a lot of it. Picture the brainstorming: what could we possibly do for another episode of this sitcom scenario? Well, maybe Gru has a twin brother he never knew about (also voiced by Carell), who is wealthier, more handsome, and an idiot — he’s also named Dru, which makes his full name Dru Gru since, as you and probably the writers have forgotten, Gru is the main character’s last name. Dru also always wanted to be a world class villain like both his brother, whom he was aware of, and their father, whom Gru never knew (or, oddly, knew about) either. For a second, that idea promises a regression narrative where Gru falls back into being a bad guy and has to be reminded again why he turned good two movies ago.
That’s not the case. Instead, the brothers end up needing to thwart the truly evil plans of that ’80s-obsessed villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), whose basic concept is one part Buddy Pine/Syndrome from The Incredibles and maybe a tiny part Billy Mitchell from The King of Kong (at least the villain contrivance the film affixed to his characterization). Meanwhile, Gru’s new wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), has a subplot where she’s trying to be the girls’ mom. Margo has a minor one where she accidentally becomes engaged. Agnes has a subplot where she searches for a real unicorn. And the Minions have their own side narrative where they ditch Gru for not being a villain anymore and wind up on a musical reality competition show that’s clearly a cross-promotion for last year’s hit animated feature Sing, which yes is made by the same studio.
There’s way too much going on, and the movie, again scripted by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and again co-directed by Pierre Coffin (this time without Chris Renaud, who is now just producing and is again replaced at the helm by Minions‘ Kyle Balda plus promoted art director Eric Guillon) suffers for all its juggling. Each storyline gets a scene that’s cut short followed by another storyline’s next swift moment, followed by another storyline’s swift moment, and so on. There are rarely two scenes cut together that are related. Everyone converges for the climax, though most of the characters have nothing to do because there are just too many of them. And yet the target audience (little kids, including mine, and everyone else’s at the screening I attended) only ever really react to those darn Minions.
I don’t get the Minions hate, by the way, outside of the general idea that a massive prevalence of anything that’s not for you is going to be annoying (there’s a fake movie advertised in Despicable Me 3 that’s like Minions but it’s “Onions,” which is perfectly ironic since kids hate onions as much as grown-ups hate Minions). The only people with the right to complain are the parents who can’t stand them who have to take their young kids to see these movies. For them, maybe the Michael Jackson and Van Halen on the soundtrack and appearance of Rubik’s cubes will appease them, even if these references are as trivial and empty of fulfillment as the nods to Duck Soup, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Pink Panther that will please the more cultured members of the audience for a brief second.
With Despicable Me 3, the divide of the original focus of the franchise and the Minions stuff has gotten deep. Much of its audience will groan any time the movie cuts to the little yellow blobs and their disconnected subplot. Most of the younger viewers will lose interest any time the movie cuts away from those banana-loving fools. It’s definitely time, since these are fleeting kids’ movies not memorable multi-quadrant-aimed family films like Pixar attempts, to lose the Gru and his ever-growing family and just focus on the dumb, nearly silent comedy relief players. Apparently this is Carell’s last installment, so that could very well happen.
Minions forever, though, or else.