Gru’s domestic bliss is shattered by a new arch-nemesis in Illumination’s latest gag-packed caper

Despicable Me 4

Source: Annecy International Animation Film Festival

‘Despicable Me 4’


Dirs: Chris Renaud, Patrick Delage. US. 2024. 95 mins

A new addition to the family; a new arch nemesis; the same tried and tested formula of peppy 3D computer animation, benign villainy and inventively absurd sight gags. Despicable Me 4 may not reinvent the wheel (even if it does soup up a wheelchair with monster-truck-sized tyres at one point). What it does deliver is a brisk, fan-friendly romp which may be a little thin on actual plot but is stuffed to the gills with jokes. The sixth film in the franchise sees Gru (Steve Carell) and his family, including his new baby son Gru Jr, forced to go into hiding to avoid his vengeful enemy Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell), a showboating braggart who is part man, part cockroach and pure, distilled evil.

A little thin on actual plot but stuffed to the gills with jokes

Maxime is not the only fresh face in this instalment. Director Chris Renaud, of Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, is joined by Patrick Delage, who served as the lead animator on the first Despicable Me, making his feature directing debut. Screenwriter Mike White, who previously co-wrote Migration, another animation from the Illumination stable, joins the Despicable family, alongside long-term Despicable Me writer Ken Daurio. The film suffers a little from a rushed third act – the set-up is more satisfying (and gag-heavy) than the pay-off. But a crowd-pleasing Tears For Fears cover version (’Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, naturally) and a greatest hits reunion of fan-favourite past villains ensures that the film goes out with a bang rather than whimper. Bowing in most territories in July, this latest sequel can count on the enduring popularity of the franchise, plus a release schedule that is relatively free of other family movies.

Desicable Me 4 opens with Gru embracing domesticity with the same enthusiasm that he previously brought to nefarious schemes and needlessly complicated heists. He adores his three girls, but there’s a special place in his heart for the new baby, Gru Jr. Sadly, Jr doesn’t return the affection – one of the film’s funnier running gags involves the baby’s steely hostility towards his fawning, chuckling dad. Gru’s domestic bliss is interrupted, however, by the news that his evil nemesis, Maxime, has escaped from his high security prison and is intent on claiming revenge on Gru.

The Anti-Villain League springs into action, relocating the family to a dull, safe and affluent commuter town, where Gru, his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and the kids must get to grips with their new identities. One person who is not taken in by Gru’s new persona as Chet the pink-shirted solar panel salesman is Poppy (Joey King), a precociously machiavellian teenager who lives next door. Poppy is an evil-groupie, fascinated by villainy, who sees Gru as a passport to a glorious future for herself, starting with the heist of a honey badger. Gru cautions against this, “Honey badger don’t care,” he claims, in a rare, lazy moment of meme piggy-backing in the screenplay.

But while Poppy starts out as a promisingly and entertainingly malicious character, the film loses interest in her once it has established that she’s not a credible threat to Gru and co. This throwaway approach to gags and characters is evident throughout the film: a scene in which the younger girls learn karate from ‘Sensei O’Sullivan’ is so hilarious, you expect that the teacher must be a character that will reappear later in the film. It’s a little disappointing that he doesn’t.

As always, the Minions deliver the biggest laughs, with five randomly chosen yellow henchmen imbued with super powers, courtesy of the AVL laboratories, to become Mega Minions. A montage in which they are unleashed into society to use their powers – elasticity, flight, strength, laser vision and the ability to eat through walls – is gloriously funny and playful. And Pierre Coffin’s Minion voice work remains one of the greatest pleasures of this reliably silly series.

Production companies: Universal Studios, Illumination

Worldwide distribution: Universal Pictures International

Producers: Chris Meledandri, Brett Hoffman

Screenplay: Mike White, Ken Daurio

Editing: Tiffany Hillkurtz

Music: Heitor Pereira

Main voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Pierre Coffin, Joey King, Sofia Vergara, Stephen Colbert, Miranda Cosgrove, Chloe Fineman, Steve Coogan, Chris Renaud, Dana Gaier