Thoughts on Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2

So, Despicable Me 3 has come out, and they were selling Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in a Blu-Ray combo back for a decent price, so I bought and watched them. Now, I had watched and enjoyed the original when I had shomi (and I still haven’t replaced shomi) but this time when I watched both of them I noticed something, likely because it was even more pronounced in the second movie than in the first one:

The movies are overstuffed with shallow story and plotlines, so much so that the only way to really get the plotlines is because they are so tropey that we immediately recognize the scenes and what they indicate even if things aren’t set up properly in advance.

Margo (who might be my favourite character) gets hit the hardest by this. In the first movie, she gets mostly a perfunctory plot around not trusting that she’d really get a parent, ending with an emotional final “I love you Dad!” to Gru. But that wasn’t really touched on in at all in the movie, and her character — essentially being the mother figure for the girls — wasn’t going to admit that publicly anyway … or, at least, not where the others could hear it. So that final scene becomes “Oh, yeah, I see that she might have had that sort of feeling from some minor thing that she did earlier”, which loses the emotion of the scene. Sure, you can argue that the scene where she has to trust Gru to catch her counts, but again that wasn’t really set up that well and is one of the minor events that might indicate it but doesn’t strongly telegraph it. In the second movie, she has the whole sub-plot with the son of the villain, who ends up dumping her … but we get a short scene with her with the sombrero of depression or whatever that was and that’s about it, other than it getting them into the villain’s mansion and giving Gru a chance to act protective for about five minutes. That’s not enough to deal with the first crush and the depression of her heart being broken. Again, we recognize the events because we know that this is what happens, but they aren’t developed enough in movie for us to really get the emotional connection to work.

This is also seen with the scene where the agent is pondering leaving Gru in the airplane, and decides to go back to him. While, yes, we were aware that they were heading towards a relationship, this scene just jumps into the middle of the action with little set-up, runs through quickly, and ends with a flourish that isn’t justified by what they’ve done up to that point (they kinda had one date). Again, we recognize the trope, so we understand what’s happening, but we don’t get the emotional oomph from it.

And we see this with the head of the division, who is the interfering boss just because that’s what he is, and with the youngest girl’s mother speech, and in a number of other cases. We have common tropes tossed out there so that we recognize them, but each aren’t developed enough to generate the strong emotions of those tropes on their own.

Now, you can argue that these movies are aimed at kids, and kids don’t need and aren’t going to appreciate taking the time it would take to set these things up. The first response is that given that children are not going to be as steeped in tropes as adults relying on trope recognition to carry the plot is a risky move. The second response is that they could fix most of this by reducing the number of subplots which would give them the time to do them properly, and they can be done in a humourous way, since other works have done that time and time and time again.

That being said, the movies are paced well and entertaining, but the scenes where they rely on my recognizing the trope to really appreciate an emotional sequence kinda bug me … especially since there’s no reason why they have to do that.

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