Despicable Me 4 (United States, 2024)

July 04, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Despicable Me 4 Poster

For a movie that was posited as one of 2024’s heavy hitters, Despicable Me 4 is strangely inconsequential, especially coming in the wake of the more substantive Inside Out 2. More of a “big screen cartoon” than a legitimate “animated feature,” this sixth outing for Gru (Steve Carrell) and his Minion cohorts shows how overextended the franchise has become. Young kids will probably enjoy the little yellow creatures as much as ever but, for adults, the good-natured chuckles they once brought have been neutered through repetition. I laughed once at the Minions (a gag based on a scene from Spider-Man 2).

From movie-to-movie, Gru’s family keeps growing. In addition to his three adopted daughters, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Madison Polan), and Edith (Dana Gaier), he has a wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and new baby boy. As was the case in the previous films, most of the moments that work focus on domestic elements. There’s a clever scene in which the Minions are depicted as having diaper changing and cleanup down to a science. Many parents will experience a flash of intense jealousy at this.

Gru, working undercover for the Anti-Villain League, attends his high school class reunion to arrest his old rival, Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell), who has transformed himself into a half-cockroach/half-human hybrid and is planning all sorts of villainy. While being taken into custody, Maxime vows revenge against Gru. When he subsequently escapes from prison, AVL honcho Silas (Steve Coogan), decrees that Gru and his family must go into Witness Protection. While the villain is at large, they will adopt new identities and live out a life of anonymity in a wealthy suburban community. Gru proves to be a square peg in a round hole. (Or is that a round peg in a square hole?) Attempts to ingratiate himself with his next-door neighbor, Perry Prescott (Stephen Colbert), don’t go well. But a bigger problem is presented by Perry’s teenage daughter, Poppy (Joey King), who recognizes Gru and blackmails him into helping her polish her villainous CV. (She wants to be accepted into Gru’s alma mater.)

While a few individual episodes are amusing and/or endearing, the overall film feels overlong and somewhat tedious, even with a reasonable 95-minute runtime. Gru and the Minions have long since lost their appeal as motion picture draws – they would be better served in the streaming arena; their escapades are better suited to 22-minute bites. Sadly, the three girls who were so instrumental in Gru’s transformation are little more than background ornaments here, their characters accorded less development than the Minions, who at least get to play superheroes. Gru’s relationship with Lucy is perfunctory. Despicable Me 4 instead focuses on the interaction between Gru and Gru Jr., who initially rejects his father while craving his mother’s attention.

At its best, Despicable Me 4 echoes some of the least effective aspects of The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 and, despite being helmed by veterans of the series (Chris Renaud directed Despicable Me and its first sequel; Patrick Delage was an animator for those films), it has lost the magic that made the initial installments so much fun. Although it fits adequately into the mid-summer family film niche, that category is already filled to overflowing by the superior Inside Out 2, making one wonder about the wisdom of releasing this movie in such close proximity. (To be fair, no one expected Inside Out 2 to still be a box office force in early July.) The unfortunate truth is that if Despicable Me 4 is profitable, there will be a Despicable Me 5. That’s the way things work and this box office-driven philosophy is directly responsible for something as predictable and soulless as this movie.

To emphasize the obvious: under-10 kids will be as enamored with Despicable Me 4 as they are with any disposable cartoon – such things are consumed like junk food and candy before being forgotten. Older viewers will attend Despicable Me 4 more out of a sense of obligation than because of heartfelt devotion (or because they’re chaperoning children). But, like undercooked comfort food, the series has lost its taste and appeal. Despicable Me 4 exemplifies what happens when an animated franchise overstays its welcome.

Despicable Me 4 (United States, 2024)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2024-07-03
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: Animation
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1