Pixar animations – we’re not able to call them cartoons these days, though they are – Pixar animations are invariably excellent to outstanding, those from other studios less so. Spielberg’s stable, bought by Disney, tends to pick winning stories aimed at adults as well as children, though their quality varies.
Entertaining as Universal Studios Despicable Me 1 and 2 were, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to see the third iteration. Movie sequels repeat formats and run out of ideas losing fresh appeal. To keep the interest of succeeding generations studios completely alter the original; they will say evolve.
Anyhow, duty and grandchildren called; it’s the school holidays, the cineplex a good place to take a rambunctious kid on a dreich day. I took Ethan, six years old, and his brother Quinn, all of four-and-a-half years of age, (mentioning the half is important) to see Despicable or Captain Underpants. They chose the former. The intriguing thing is, as critics they liked and disliked the same bits as I did.
This instalment sees a permanently cravat attired Gru, the Despicable of the title, implausibly kicked out of spy bureau because of incompetence. He failed to capture Balthazar Bratt, a madcap singing, dancing villain, who’s stolen the world’s biggest diamond. Balthazar is a former ‘80s child TV star now turned to a life of crime. Nobody can stop him. Like all super-villains, he lives grandly on an island all of his own making.
Gru’s plan to capture Balthazar, regain his boss’s trust and get his job back, is diverted by the surprise advent of a twin brother, Dru, more successful that Gru, but madly frivolous, not at all serious or grave. Worse, he flaunts a head of thick blonde hair, the envy of Gru with his bald dome. Dru wants to be like Gru, a villain, but he’s too late. Gru explains he has been domesticated, given up his bad ways to look after his three adopted children, the oh-so adorable, terribly well behaved, Margo, Edith, and Agnes.
As the story unfolds we learn the twins love for each other is not quite what it seems, and their wicked mother has a lot to do with their flawed character, and their physical separation from birth.
Well, if the formula works why change it? Despicable Me 3 offers up more of the same: more Gru – Gru x 2 if you count his twin brother, Dru; more Minions, though not in as many scenes as expected; more cartoonish sight gags; more pop-music, and pop music references; and more terrific Pharrell Williams songs.
Perhaps the writers should have written another draft of the script. The main characters we have grown to like, the children and the Minions, barely get a look-in to the various comedy capers. And the happy home with the three girls, (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel) is soon abandoned in pursuit of the villain. The Minions too are at a loose end, without projects to keep them occupied in Gru’s cellar workshop.
The animation is full of overlaid garbled chatter, everything is really noisy, even for young ears, and the story is thrown at us at break-neck speed. We switch back and forth between storylines, not quite getting to grips with the one before us before the next drops in. I’m pretty sure young minds will not follow any of them coherently, they will only remember key sequences.
The don’t-fix-it approach is fine if all the elements fall into place naturally. As an adult I couldn’t get my head around the disjointed layout, jump cuts, and 200 mph editing.
Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig are back to voice a pair of lovey-dovey superspy parents out to rid the world of evil yet again. Actually, I was surprised to note the original film’s enticing premise, about a bad guy who can’t help turning good, is all but lost.
Series creator Pierre Coffin, (with Kyle Balda and co-director Eric Guillon) tries to gives us some family interaction as a reminder of what binds them altogether, but in the attempt side-lines the Minions, the very characters the glue of the first two films, the funniest characters by far. They are just as hilarious in this episode but restricted to two heavenly inspired sequences, and bits parts in the final chase.
I liked the villain beating off Gru, Dru, the Minions, the police and army by blowing giant gum bubbles at them, sticking them to buildings and each other. Even after the third and fourth scene it’s just as clever, and of course, nobody is really hurt. The opening reel is full of those antics, Tex Avery-style hit and miss stunts, over-laid with terrific music cues ranging from Michael Jackson to Van Halen to A-ha.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot tossed from the screen at us at once, yet Carell – with an even more pronounced Dracula-Slavic accent that last time – and Wiig, manage to anchor the Keystone Cops antics with voice gymnastics that meet their over-the-top characters, but are also emotionally true.
There are plenty of clever and outlandish jokes, too many passing you by in a mad rush, and a French character that I think is modelled on Gerard Depardieu. But by far the two laugh-out-loud Minion sketches are deliriously funny: one on a stage at a television singing competition, and the other a prison break, timed to Pharrell’s hit “Freedom.”
What did my young companions think?
Ethan giggled at the funny bits, and sat rock still all ninety minutes, a model of a child at the pictures, never bored, nor running up and down in the aisles. The speed of the action kept him enthralled. He thought the Minions the best characters of all, as I did, the others not so good, again as I did. Maybe the Minions should get a movie of their own.
Quinn, on the other hand, found the cross-referenced villain dressed in purple scary, an Elvis-Prince mismatch, and soon turned away from the action. Afterwards he said he only liked the Minions, and would have preferred to have seen the latest Cars animation. I think they sum up my own opinion perfectly.
So, not a film for the under six’s.
A lot of the story and action is absolute bonkers. If the animators had a great time creating the film they’ve not managed to convey all their enjoyment to us. The pace is far too fast. You don’t have time to sneeze, or ask your child if they’re enjoying it.
There’s a ton of toy product animation out there now, from Lego to My Little Pony. It all looks like over-commercialisation and kiddy exploitation. The Despicable franchise has netted $1.3 billion worldwide. It doesn’t look set for retirement any time soon. Somebody is laughing all the way to a tax haven, and it isn’t the kids paying to see the films.
- Star Rating: Three
- Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker
- Director: Kayle Balda, Pierre Coffin
- Writer: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
- Music: Heitor Pereira, songs by Pharrell Williams
- Duration: 90 minutes
- RATING CRITERIA
- 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?