Despicable Me 3
Despicable Me 3 operates on two very different levels. On one level, you have the juvenile bathroom and slapstick humor, which judging from the delighted responses from the kids at our screening, seems to have hit the mark. On the other level, you have the 80s sight gags, audio cues and references, and a few truisms about being a parent, which again, judging from the audience reaction, certainly seems to have hit the mark with the grown-ups. So, at very different times, very different segments of the audience were laughing and enjoying themselves. Thus, I suppose it could be said that Despicable Me 3 still has the ability to appeal to both young and old, but the problem is these two different aspects of the movie never really come together to form a complete whole. In fact, throughout the movie there are segments and sub-plots that all operate just fine on their own, but never truly find any cohesion with everything else that’s going on. In the end, Despicable Me 3 feels like watching several different but still entertaining vignettes that don’t really connect with each other.
The clearest indication that this was a sequel that wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of its characters is when we’re told that Dr. Nefario had frozen himself in carbonite. It’s a tidy and concise explanation for his absence, but with so many characters that lack much of anything to do, it seems he could have had company in that carbonite of “we didn’t know what to do with this character.” Lucy is pretty much just along for the ride. She has some desire to figure out how to be a mother to her new gaggle of girls, but considering there’s little to no indication that the girls dislike her at all, and considering the last film revolved around their desperate desire for a mother figure and their ready acceptance of her at the end of that film, that storyline feels more like a desperate attempt just to give her some reason for being around. The girls fair little better, spending most of the film apart from Gru and on their own, with the youngest Agnes on a quest to find a real unicorn; again, at least it gives them something to do. Then there are the minions. The leave Gru, so like the girls, spend most of the film away from him (wait, didn’t we see what that was like in the Minions movie?), and ultimately end up in jail. Their antics are entertaining but also so separate from everything else that it almost feels like a minions animated short was interspersed throughout the movie in order to help it meet a minimum run time.
So what is this movie about? Well, Gru meets his long-lost brother Dru, who wants him to return to being a villain. Gru agrees to help with a heist after being fired from his super-spy group for failing to catch a stuck-in-the-80s villain with a vendetta against Hollywood. However, that all just feels like a setup for another, admittedly more interesting film in which Gru must now pursue and stop his twin brother who is now the super villain of the family. I kind of felt like Dru was a way for there to still be a bad-guy Gru without Gru actually having to be the bad guy. Why can’t Gru go back to being a bad guy when it’s something he so obviously longs for? I’m not sure; we’re never really told. I’m assuming it has something to do with love and responsibility to his family, a theme which could have provided some much-needed heart for this film. Instead, Gru just continually states he left that life behind, kind of like how we’re constantly told that Lucy is still figuring out the whole “mom thing.” In fact, there’s a lot of characters just telling us things instead of ever being shown those things.
Getting back to Agnes and her quest for a unicorn for a moment, she eventually does find one, or so she believes. It turns out to be a goat that happens to have one horn. There’s some concern expressed about how disappointed she’ll be, and Gru tries to explain to her that sometimes when we’re looking for unicorns, life gives us a goat instead. I think we’ve all experienced that at some point in life; disappointment. We look for a unicorn, we get a goat instead. In fact, there are times where we might even feel that way about God; we asked him for a unicorn, he gives us a goat instead. The question is what do we do in those moments of disappointment with God. It may seem like the easy solution is to decide this whole “God thing” just “doesn’t work” and turn away to try something else. Funny thing is, often times we don’t take the time to really sit back and examine what our motivations or expectations were. Did we really expect to get a unicorn? Would that really have been most beneficial to our life? The simple fact is, like any loving parent, God often won’t give us what we want, but he will give us what we need. Despite not having an actual unicorn, Agnes quickly decides that her little goat is the cutest, cuddliest little goat she’s ever seen and that’s good enough for her, even if it isn’t a unicorn. I couldn’t decide if that lack of disappointment was too easy or not, and then I realized Agnes was able to do something so many of us can’t; she saw the value in the gift she was given instead of focusing on the disappoint of not receiving the gift she wanted. How different might life, not to mention our relationship with God, be if we could all learn to do the same?
Okay, totally honesty here; I’m still a bit miffed that Despicable Me has received two sequels and a Minions spinoff while Megamind, arguably the better of the two when they came out the same year, hasn’t received any sort of similar love. Those sentiments may play a small part in my not being all that impressed with this third outing for Gru and the gang. This film really felt like one in search of a reason for existing, hence all the different stories that don’t relate much to each other, and the franchise’s least interesting bad guy (aside from his 80s chic). I get it; it’s hard to keep Gru the good guy when he was so much more interesting as the bad guy. Still, it’s sweet that he’s found so much fulfillment in being a parent and a husband. However, the whole “long lost twin brother” as a way to get a surrogate bad guy Gru into the picture smacks of desperation and a dry well of ideas. The amazing thing is, these characters are still just so likable it’s hard to leave the theater feeling too disappointed. I mean, I laughed, I had a good time, but really kind of wished this series hadn’t become a trilogy. Come to think of it, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that Megamind stuck with just the one movie after all. See, finding joy in a goat when one was expecting a unicorn isn’t so hard after all.
Score: 4 of 7 – Despicable Me 3 is a fun but ultimately forgettable adventure with Gru and the gang. There seemed to be more potty humor than I remember from the others, but it was mostly inoffensive stuff. Personally, I think there are better ways to spend time and money on a holiday weekend, but this movie would be a fun outing to the dollar theater.