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Despicable Me 3 is so wildly mediocre, so achingly adequate, and so puzzlingly prosaic, I can barely bring myself to write about it. In all honesty, I have spent more research time for this review googling synonyms for mediocre than I have considering anything related to the production of Despicable Me 3. The latest bit of barely above average animation from the company Illumination is so very much just OK that just trying to find the energy to type words about it is taxing.
Despicable Me 3 picks up the story of former super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) as he continues his career as a newly formed hero. Alongside his now wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), Gru is hot on the trail of the newest super-villain, a stuck in the 80’s former child star named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who uses gum and rubix cubes as super-weapons. It’s a clever idea for about 5 or 6 minutes and then it becomes tiresome and then forgettable.
Ah but don’t worry, Despicable Me 3 has a second uninspired plot. In this one we find that Gru has a twin brother named Dru. The joke of Dru is that he’s in good shape, has hair, and is bad at crime. That’s it, that’s the joke. On top of that, we’re supposed to find it hilarious when Gru’s mother cruelly hides his brother from him before telling him that he was her second pick. Hilarious familial cruelty you guys! Oh, and Gru’s mom is an old perv with two male swim coaches she leers at creepily, you know, to entertain the kids. (Yes, I remember that joke has been in the other films; it was creepy and unfunny then as well.)
Now, I know what you’re wondering, where are the Minions? Well first, what’s wrong with your life that you care about what the Minions are doing? Second, don’t worry, they have their own plot in which they abandon Gru to return to a life of crime and wind up in jail where we are treated to not one but two musical numbers because you need to something with the Minions; you can’t make toys if they aren’t in the movie.
The charm of the original Despicable Me was lost when the sequel wasted nearly 90 minutes of our lives making a commercial for the Minions solo movie, itself a mere commercial for plush toys. What charm the original Despicable Me had came from the lovely idea of a bad guy turning good because he falls for a group of sweet young orphans. That film had stakes and characters you rooted for and against and a clear-eyed perspective of the character of Gru who was always a good guy deep down and just needed a little love to bring it out.
The second film chucked any semblance of stakes or heart because that’s not what sells toys and tickets. Now on the 3rd film, the charm is entirely gone and what is left is mere competence. The film is competent. Despicable Me 3 isn’t funny but it’s not actively hateful, aside from the Gru’s mom stuff but that’s just one bad scene. The film doesn’t feature standout animation but it’s certainly not terrible, it’s even occasionally quite appealing.
Basically, Despicable Me 3 just sort of exists and that, for me, is its biggest and only real crime. The series has become mercenary; it’s now just a marketing campaign for toys and anything else that will one day populate dusty claw machines in ancient bowling alleys or off-brand grocery stores. Millions of dollars and an incredible amount of talent is now being dedicated to schilling schlock merchandise.
At least when Pixar goes mercenary we get some semblance of effort. For all its faults, Cars 3 seems to care about its characters and the animation is masterful, even as the story sputters. In the world of Illumination, characters are merely things to make merchandise out of while animators and voice actors work and sweat to deliver something that’s just good enough. I would be sad about that if I weren’t overcome by such weighty apathy.