Despicable Me 4

I want to state from the start of this review, that I am a lover of animation. From the brilliant
slapstick of classic Looney Tunes cartoons, to the heat felt emotion of the best Pixar films.
While in film school, I spent $100 to buy a VHS version of Bruno Bozzetto’s film “Allegro Non
Troppo.” So I don’t want to hear that my review of Despicable Me is because I don’t’ like fun,
or I don’t like animated film, or it’s just for kids. You can absolutely make movies that
entertain and challenge both children and adults, but Illumination Pictures “Despicable Me 4”
has no interest in anything but throwing several half baked ideas at the screen and sitting
back and watching the money roll in this weekend.

“Despicable Me 4” doesn’t really have much of a plot that I can summarize here, but I’ll try.
Will Ferrell’s character Maxime Le Mal is part man, part cockroach with a French accent is
arrested by Gru on behalf of the Anti-Villain league at their former villain high school. Le Mal
breaks out of prison and threatens revenge on Gru and his family, and they must go into a
witness protection program. This plot bookends the film, and the middle segments involve
Gru playing tennis with his new neighbor Perry Prescott (Stephen Colbert), some of the
Minions become superheroes, some of the Minions become AVL agents, and a few follow Gru
and his family into hiding in suburbia. Edith, Margo, and Agnes struggle lying to people about
their new identities and are afraid they won’t make new friends. Lucy becomes a really bad
hairdresser, and Poppy Prescott (Joey King) blackmails Gru into helping her steal a
honeybadger named Lenny from Gru’s old high school so she has something villainous on her
resume. If that sounds like a lot of subplots, it absolutely is. It’s overstuffed and unfocused
and it’s filled with jokes that never really land.

After Lucy ruins a women’s hair at the salon, she and the girls run into the client at the
grocery store. A chase ensues and the soundtrack is the iconic music from Terminator 2.
Agnes teaches her pet goat to sit, but instead of sitting, it drops pellets. Baby Gru (who is an
exact rip of Jack Jack from the Incredibles minus super powers) pees his pants all over the
control panel of a ship, but it doesn’t short out the electronics and there’s no reason for it to
be there. The Minions become superheroes, with one looking like the Thing, one looking like
Mr. Fantastic, one is Cyclops, etc. Why? There’s no real reason, other than to sell
merchandise for NBC Universal. Gru makes a “Honey Badger Don’t Care” because that’s only
a 20 year old joke. The end of the film has Gru and Le Mal singing a very off key version of
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears.

It takes a lot of talent to make smart and entertaining children’s programming. I will never
forget sitting in the theater on the opening night of “Wall-e” and when the title character is
crushed, you could hear a pin drop. A small child said “Is he going to be ok?” and his mother
quietly replied “I don’t know.” I think of the magic that Jim Henson would create. Chris
Renaud found that mixture of humor and heart in the original “Despicable Me” where the
story focused on the villain Gru and his having to take the little girls into his life and into his
heart. Since then, the series (including two Minions films) have gone downhill and in this film,
the girls are barely on screen which is a real shame. The vocal work is mediocre – Ferrell and Carrell only voice at an 11 on the volume scale, Kristen Wiig and Sophia Vergara sound
exactly like themselves and don’t bring much to either of their characters.

My problem with the film is it doesn’t feel like there was any attempt to tell a quality story,
and just throw half-baked gags at the screen to see what sticks. Since “Inside Out 2” has been
out for three weeks and there’s no other competition for family audiences, “Despicable Me
4” will make a lot of money this fourth of July weekend. NBC Universal will likely continue to
milk this cash cow as long as they can, but this series has nothing new to give, and needs to
be put out to pasture.

Grade C-

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