Review: ‘Despicable Me 4,’ starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Miranda Cosgrove, Sofía Vergara, Steve Coogan, Joey King, Stephen Colbert and Pierre Coffin

June 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin), Silas (voiced by Steve Coogan), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Agnes (voiced by Madison Polan), Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Gru Jr., Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) in “Despicable Me 4” (Image courtesy of Illumination and Universal Pictures)

“Despicable Me 4”

Directed by Chris Renaud; co-directed by Patrick Delage

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional U.S. city of Mayflower, the animated film “Despicable Me 4” features a group of characters portraying a spy’s family that goes into hiding, their enemies and their neighbors.

Culture Clash: After a high school reunion turns sour, Gru (a former supervillain who now works as an agent for the Anti Villain League) and his family go into hiding in Mayflower when they find out that Gru’s enemy Maxime Le Mal wants to kidnap the family’s infant son.

Culture Audience: “Despicable Me 4” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the “Despicable Me” franchise, and animated films that have short attenion spans with their plots.

Maxime Le Mal (voiced by Will Ferrell) and Valentina (voiced by Sofía Vergara) in “Despicable Me 4” (Image courtesy of Illumination and Universal Pictures)

“Despicable Me 4” falls into a sequel trap of trying to cram too many things in a story. The results are an unfocused and occasionally amusing animated film that has several subplots that go nowhere. Children under the age of 8 and die-hard fans of the “Despicable Me” franchise might enjoy this movie more than viewers who can’t overlook the movie’s obvious flaws.

Directed by Chris Renaud and co-directed by Patrick Delage, “Despicable Me 4” was written by Ken Daurio and Mike White. The central character in the “Despicable Me” movies is a former supervillain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), who now works as an agent for the Anti Villain League. The “Despicable Me” movie series began with the 2010 film “Despicable Me” and continued with 2013’s “Despicable Me 2” and 2017’s “Despicable Me 3.” Like many movie franchises, the first movie in the series is still the best. Gru works with miniature yellow creatures (who don’t speak but make noises) called Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin), which are Gru’s assistants that have their own spinoff movie series.

In “Despicable Me 4,” there’s not one but two storylines about separate abductions. There’s a story about a family that goes into hiding by relocating to another city, but the family’s patriarch and matriarch try to “fit in” with snobs in their new neighborhood. There’s a storyline about former school rivals who’ve turned into bitter enemies. There’s a subplot about five of the Minions turning into superheroes called Mega Minions. It’s just all too much going on in this overly busy plot, and not much of it comes together in a cohesive way. The movie’s plot often looks like sketches strung together.

“Despicable Me” begins with Gru attending a Class of 1985 reunion at his alma mater high school Lycee Pas Bon, a learning institution for future villains. At the reunion, Gru is miffed that his former school rival Maxime Le Mal (voiced by Will Ferrell) has received the Golden Alumni award. It leads to Maxime and Gru reigniting their feud after Gru is responsible for getting Maxime arrested. Maxime and his sultry girlfriend Valentina (voiced by Sofía Vergara) then hatch a plot to kidnap Gru’s infant son Gru Jr.

Maxime (who is obsessed with cockroaches) sends a video threat to Gru while Maxime is in jail. The Anti Villain League’s efficient leader Silas Ramsbottom (voiced by Steve Coogan) arranges for Gru and Gru’s family to go into a “witness protection” type of relocation to the city of Mayflower, where they will pose as a typical middle-class family. Gru’s family consists of his cheerful wife Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and their daughters Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Agnes (voiced by Madison Polan) and Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), along with baby Gru Jr. The family also has a white goat named Lucky that they can’t take with them to their new home.

The family members are given new names and new identities. Gru’s new name/identity is Chet Carmichael, a solar panel salesman. Lucy’s new name/identity is Blanche Carmichael, a hair stylist at an upscale salon called Mane on Maine. Various antics ensue regarding Gru/Chet and Lucy/Blanche trying to become friends with the snooty family next door: Perry Prescott (voiced by Stephen Colbert), who owns Prescott Motors, the largest auto dealership in the state; his socialite wife Patsy Prescott (voiced by Chloe Fineman); and their stuck-up teenage daughter Poppy Prescott (voiced by Joey King), who later engages in blackmail about a secret that she discovers. The movie also has time-wasting scenes showing mishaps involving Gru’s daughters in a karate class, as well as an inexperienced Lucy having a hair disaster with an obnoxious customer named Melora (voiced by Laraine Newman) at Mane on Main.

The movie’s soundtrack music is steeped in 1970s and 1980s nostalgia. The Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” The Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever,” Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana (At the Copa),” “Guns N’Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” are some of the songs that are prominently featured in the movie. Pharrell Williams’ “Double Life,” an original song written for the “Despicable Me 4” soundtrack, is obviously trying to repeat the Oscar nomination success of Williams’ “Happy” from the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack. “Happy” is by far a better song, while the bland “Double Life” is unlikely to get an Oscar nomination or win any major awards.

“Despicable Me 4” has adequate-to-good performances from the voice cast, but what sinks the movie is the fact that the screenplay and direction have too many distractions. There’s a flurry of action scenes that seem more manic than well-conceived. The ending will get mixed results from viewers, since it just seems like a lazy way to conclude the story. Part of the fun of the “Despicable Me” franchise is in how Gru and his allies handle the villains that are pitted against them. The ending of “Despicable Me 4” is a mushy conclusion that further muddles and diminishes the anti-hero personality of Gru.

Universal Pictures will release “Despicable Me 4” in U.S. cinemas on July 3, 2024.

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