Gru, Lucy and their baby look freightened.

Film Review: Despicable Me 4

Film Reviews

Despicable Me 4
Director: Chris Renaud
In Theaters: 07.03

As Inside Out 2 continues to set box officer records, animation seems to be the hot ticket for the summer. And if you’re looking for a recognizable brand that will get your kids excited, Despicable Me 4 is certainly the big event movie for the little ones.

The story begins at Lycée Pas Bon, a high school for evil that is the alma mater of our protagonist, Gru (Steve Carrell, The Office, IF), the supervillain turned hero and family man.  As the class of 1985 gathers for their reunion, The Award for the Best Pupil is presented to Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell, Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), a supervillain who has held a grudge against Gru since their youth. Le Mal unveils a new secret weapon: he’s used the DNA of cockroaches to enhance his own, making him nearly indestructible. Gru and the Anti-Villain League (AVL) agents successfully arrest Le Mal at the ceremony’s conclusion. After breaking out of prison, Maxime, his girlfriend Valentina (Sofia Vergara, Modern Family), and their army of rats and cockroaches plot revenge against Gru and his family, including his infant son, Gru Jr. To protect them, the AVL relocates the entire family under new identities, with only three Minions accompanying them. Gru adopts the alias Chet Cunningham, a solar panel salesman, while Lucy eagerly becomes a hairdresser. Meanwhile, Gru’s irascible yellow Minions are transferred to the AVL headquarters, where Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan, Stan & Ollie, Greed) uses a group of them for a bold new crime-fighting experiment, turning them into superheroes known as The Mega Minions. As Maxime Le Mal closes in on Gru and his family, a showdown is inevitable, and a final clash between the old rivals can end with only one of them victorious.

Despicable Me 4 is somewhat erroneously titled, as it’s really the sixth film in the franchise when you factor in 2015’s Minions and its prequel, Minions: The Rise of Gru in 2022, and what started out as a fresh and creative family movie back in 2010 has increasingly devolved into an overly toyetic cash grab. Despicable Me 4 is lively and often cute, with eye-popping visuals and plenty of energy and silliness to delight kids, but the story is an overcrowded mess filled with far too many characters and plot threads.

A subplot involving an aspiring young supervillain who lives next door to the “Cunningham” family and blackmails Gru into helping her with a heist is fun enough, yet it brings the main storyline to a grinding halt. The Mega Minions feel so completely detached from the rest of the film that it’s easy to hypothesize that the idea was originally conceived for its own movie and merely got melded into this one as an afterthought.  The messiness is particularly frustrating when you consider that the script is credited to Mike White (School of Rock, The White Lotus) and co-franchise creator Ken Daurio, who are more than capable of writing a stellar screenplay.  There’s certainly fun to be had here, with a lively voice cast and some strong action sequences, but when you consider that the original came with strong character arcs and a truly heartwarming story, the feeling that this series gave up quality for quantity some time ago is inescapable.

As a movie that I could watch with my giggling nephews, I enjoyed Despicable Me 4 just enough to get through it once, and it’s important to point out that the pact audience full of kids had a blast. These movies do have their place—simply because kids love them—and as far as children’s entertainment goes, it’s still fairly ambitious in terms of providing rousing entertainment for its target audience. There’s nothing wrong with a kiddie movie, it’s simply a shame when a family film franchise forgets that it’s meant for the whole family. If you don’t have a kid to take to it, however, there’s no reason to bother with Despicable Me 4, and another viewing of Inside Out 2 is still a far better use of your moviegoing money. –Patrick Gibbs

Read more animated film and TV reviews here:
Film Review: Inside Out 2
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