There has been a belief held by most in the West that animation is just for kids. I find this view to be limiting both for studios who won’t produce thoughtful films using CGI, Stop Motion or traditional drawn animation. That is not to say that the animation produced for children and families is bad, Disney has become mandatory cinematic viewing for anyone and it shapes our understanding of film and culture and, the same can be said of Pixar, Aardman and Laika. However one studio above all in recent years has become a prolific animation studio, that studio is Illumination Entertainment, building its empire upon The Minions and Despicable Me, the third instalment of which is out in cinemas now, originally titled Despicable Me 3. With 4 films focusing on this property, one has to wonder if this franchise is losing steam or is it only just starting to build momentum.
After failing to catch an 80’s themed supervillain, Balthazar Bratt, Gru and new wife Lucy are fired from their jobs at the Anti-Villain League. The future looks bleak until Gru finds out that he has a twin brother, Dru. Will Gru return to a life of villainy with his brother or will he remain true to his adopted family,
It never ceases to amaze me that the minions have become the unstoppable pop culture icons they are because quite frankly I cannot think of a bigger turn-off in a film than hoards of jabbering yellow blobs that interrupt the plot for fart jokes and that grating language that constantly spews from their mouths. They were only mildly amusing in the first film and now with a larger role in subsequent films, it’s clear that the minions were only supposed to be taken in small doses.
Don’t get me wrong, the minions are not the only thing wrong with the movie; Despicable Me 3 has some serious plot problems. The writers decided to throw everything in this film in the hope that the minions would distract kids from a shallow paint by numbers drama-less film: there is the twin brother; the new supervillain; a unicorn hunt for the youngest daughter; some weird cheese courting ritual, as well as lip service played to Gru’s family relationships. All of these issues are brought up and resolved with remarkable speed, some even being fixed in 5 minutes, which makes the film feel lazy and tired.
This feeling that the Despicable Me series is getting tired infects Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig who phone in their performances, while the creator of South Park Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt seems like a parody of Despicable Me from his own irreverent show.
Finally, this is a general criticism of Illumination as a whole rather than specifically of Despicable Me 3. There is something off-putting in the way that Illumination animates, from the freakish character models to the recycled backgrounds. It is a combination of cost effectiveness and laziness, which you can see upon watching their films for a second time. With films like Monsters Inc or Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a sense that the animators had the time, passion and drive to make a great film. There is none of that with Despicable Me or Illumination, they are rubbery glitchy and flat.
One good thing I can say about Despicable Me is that it is a brisk 90 minutes even though it feels like the run time stretches years. I was so happy when Despicable Me 3 was finished because finally there was silence, everyone had stopped talking and I did not have to look at the minions anymore for 3 years until Minions 2 in 2020. I wonder when the market will eventually be over saturated with Minions and the public will get sick of these little yellow clowns and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later.