Despicable Me 4 Review: It’s the Minions’ World After All

The Minions are back...again.

Commercially speaking, the only number that matters when it comes to the Despicable Me series is $4.6 billion. That’s the total the series has grossed globally across 14 years and five entries. There’s little sign of family-oriented audiences turning away from its supervillain-turned-hero, Gru (impeccably voiced by Steve Carell), his ever-growing family, or most importantly for the preteen set, the Twinkie-shaped Minions. Less typical supervillain henchmen than the embodiment of chaos in unearthly form, the Minions are motivated less by their allegiance to Gru than by their need for toddler-inspired destruction. They lay pint-sized waste to everything in their paths, up to and including Gru’s latest plan to save the world and/or his family from nefarious villains.

After the first Despicable Me movie in 2010 saw Gru learn that love conquers not just hate, but also the desire to rule the world, domestic and personal bliss followed. Despicable no more, the intervening years saw Gru adopt three preteen daughters–Edith (Dana Gaier), Agnes (Madison Polan), and Margo (Miranda Cosgrove)– and find a life partner, Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). For the Anti-Villain League (AVL), he also discovered that he had a long-lost twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell), and now, in Despicable Me 4, Gru becomes father to a rambunctious toddler, aptly named Gru Jr.

It’s all good for Gru and company until he ventures back to his pre-hero haunts, specifically the junior high school for supervillains that he attended back in the 1980s. Gru hasn’t, however, reverted to his old supervillain ways. He’s there on an assignment for the AVL. While his former classmates celebrate decades as supervillains, Gru keeps his eyes on Maxime de Mal (Will Ferrell), a former classmate and rival who’s turned his lifelong obsession with roaches into something too horrible to describe here.

Gru “wins” his battle with Maxime, but as with all good – or bad – things, their conflict doesn’t end there. Driven by the insatiable thirst for revenge like most cartoon supervillains of note, Maxime plots and executes a plan for his escape, calling out Gru and his family before he does. With Maxime reunited with his longtime girlfriend, Valentina (Sofía Vergara), and back among his sewer-dwelling kind, Gru’s supercilious superior, Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), decides to err on the side of caution. He sends Gru and company into the equivalent of the witness protection program for supervillains turned heroes.

From that development, Despicable Me 4 follows Gru and his family as they begin new lives under fresh identities. Gru and his family find themselves in a classic “fish out of water” situation. Gru, who’s usually more comfortable in grays and blacks than pastels or bright colours, pretends he’s a solar panel salesman named Chet Cunningham. Lucy assumes an alias as a hairstylist at an upscale boutique. Finally, the girls, all with new names, must adjust to life in a mega-wealthy town.

Dropping all pretense of a single, coherent storyline, Despicable Me 4 follows Gru and Gru Jr. as the former joins a neighbour’s wannabe villain tween, Poppy Prescott (Joey King), on a potentially dangerous mission back to his school. At the same time, Lucy has a disastrous first/last day at the salon. Edith and Agnes, meanwhile, study martial arts with an overzealous sensei. Finally, Margo, missing her old friends and her old school, all but disappears into a cloud of malaise and despair.

As usual, the Minions, sometimes in small groups and sometimes in large ones, flit in and out of the other storylines. However, in Despicable Me 4, they also get their own arc: Ramsbottom decides the nearly indestructible Minions make for perfect test subjects. Cue a slightly tired, far from wired superhero parody as the newly minted Mega-Minions (i.e. the Fantastic Five) do what they do best and/or worst: Creating even more chaos wherever they go, leaving even greater amounts of property damage behind than their non-super-powered comrades. Put another way, they’re having the time of their serum-enhanced lives.

With so many storylines competing for attention, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Despicable Me 4 all too often feels like a series of loosely connected vignettes or episodes, tied together by Gru, his family, and the Minions. Several storylines feel either truncated or unfinished, mostly because they are. Chances are, however, that families with small children won’t care either way, contenting themselves in the rapid-fire humour of Gru and company laughing themselves silly at the never-ending antics of the Minions. Fans of the franchise can once again take pleasure from the sterling efforts the animation team.

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Despicable Me 4 is now playing in theatres.



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