The first “Despicable Me” film made nearly half a billion dollars when it premiered back in 2010. It was fresh, original and new. The second “Despicable Me” made nearly twice that: $970.8 million. (Call it an even billion). And now we’re about to get the third “Despicable Me” film in the franchise in summer 2017. No doubt, it too, it will make close to $1 billion.
But this film franchise has to stop.
Number one – and this is not a minor point – the film trailer for “Despicable Me 3” looks like it was dreamt up by a bunch of old Baby Boomers looking to get a few laughs from fellow Baby Boomers. Here’s the basic plot: evil child star from the 1980s Balthazar Bratt is intent on achieving world domination and Gru (Steve Carell) and his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) must stop him.
Along the way, Balthazar Bratt impersonates Michael Jackson (a big part of the trailer is the song “Bad”), chews bubble pink bubble gum that he uses for nefarious purposes, wears a suit with goofy shoulder pads, and uses a weapon called a “keytar” (it’s supposed to sound like a funny version of guitar). Along the way, we get a dance-off on a boat and just way too much Michael Jackson.
So that’s the first reason this franchise has to be stopped – it looks like Illumination Entertainment has taken a funny premise (Gru and the Anti-Villain League) and just stopped coming up with a funny or clever storyline. OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson and whatever else you can dredge up from the 1980s – we’re tired of it.
And then, what’s up with the minions? It used to take several successful films before you got a spin-off. The minions got their own movie – “Minions” – after just two films. In 2015, “Minions” was the second highest-grossing animated film in the business, as well as the highest-grossing non-Disney animated picture in history. It made over $1 billion. Yes, it featured some pretty cool music – The Kinks, the Who, John Lennon & Paul McCartney – but this is when we started to realize that we were getting played.
Here’s why: the merch. With the “Despicable Me” franchise, the merchandise didn’t seem to be the point of it all. With “Minions,” the merchandise became the focus. Can you even walk into a retail store like Target or Wal-Mart these days and not see Minion merchandise everywhere? Stand in line at a supermarket, and you’ll see the minions. You can’t escape those little one-eyed and two-eyed yellow creatures.
What’s more amazing is that there have actually been 10 short minion films to complement the 3 blockbuster summer features. You know, to feed the addiction, so that there will be plenty of demand for when the next film drops. 2010 gave us “Bananas,” a short film in which 3 minions fight over a banana. 2016 gave us “Mower Minions,” in which five minions mow a lawn. Wait, what?
But don’t get me wrong – it’s not that the “Despicable Me” films are bad. In fact, quite the opposite – the first two in the series actually did relatively well in terms of critical and viewer response, with just a slight drop-off between “Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2.” It’s the third one, though, that people need to be worried about. This one looks like it’s about to “jump the shark” and that’s why you need to be concerned.
So, the billion-dollar question becomes: When is it time for a film franchise to stop?
Obviously, you can’t measure this on purely financial factors, because it’s hard to argue with films that are grossing close to $1 billion. And you can’t blame the artistic talent. We love Steve Carell and his voice cracks us up.
No, the concern here is that the minions exist as purely a money-making device of some evil overlord in Hollywood. Just as minions are programmed to serve evil masters, the minion films are programmed to serve the needs of evil corporate interests.
Quite simply, the answer to that billion-dollar question is the following: the time to stop is when the films are all about the bucks rather than pushing the storyline forward. “Despicable Me 3” looks like it’s way more about the adults (who control the cash flow) than about the kids. Until now, the reason the films made so much money is because they’ve been a crossover hit – kind of like “The Simpsons” or some other grown-up cartoon. But they were kid movies.
Kids wanted to see the movies because the plots are something they can identify with. Take the first “Despicable Me” – it was about an audacious attempt to capture the moon. That’s something you can explain to your kids. The second “Despicable Me” gave us the song “Happy,” which was fun to sing along to with the kids. But now consider “Despicable Me 3” – the plot line invokes bad 80s music, bad 80s outfits, and Michael Jackson. Quick, ask your 5-year-old if it’s funny to be a child 80s star or if they know who Michael Jackson is.
So, here’s a humble suggestion. The “Despicable Me” franchise should just politely walk away while it’s still on top. It’s clear that there’s a mountain of creative talent at Illumination Entertainment – talent that’s better used coming up with creative new concepts rather than just endlessly re-hashing this minion stuff over and over again.
Illumination Entertainment actually has the potential to become a credible rival to Disney these days. And they’re doing it with some really cute stuff that appeals to kids, like “The Secret Life of Pets.” That’s a fun concept that everyone can embrace, and especially the kids.
The secret of Disney and Pixar is that they became great animation film studios by constantly coming up with fresh, new creative work – not by just recycling the same film over and over again. Imagine if Disney had taken the original “Cinderella” and then released a few prequels and sequels and filled up any gaps between films with lots of mini-films. The market would have been way too saturated, and “Cinderella” might never have become a classic hit.
So, please Illumination Entertainment, take a breather with the “Despicable Me” franchise. The first two films were creative, funny and quirky. They made you into a name-brand entertainment studio. Don’t ruin it by saturating us with minion merchandise and “Despicable Me” films we really don’t need. In short, don’t be despicable. The franchise will air periodically on TV, so make sure to watch it with a cable subscription from Comcast XFINITY.