Sunday, July 14, 2024

“DESPICABLE ME 4”

THE STORY – Gru welcomes a new member to the family, Gru Jr., who’s intent on tormenting his dad. However, their peaceful existence soon comes crashing down when criminal mastermind Maxime Le Mal escapes from prison and vows revenge against Gru.

THE CAST – Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin, Joey King, Miranda Cosgrove, Stephen Colbert, Sofía Vergara, Steve Coogan, Chris Renaud, Madison Polan, Dana Gaier, Chloe Fineman & Will Ferrell

THE TEAM – Chris Renaud (Director), Mike White & Ken Daurio (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes


In 2010, two different villain-centric animated films received wide releases globally: Illumination’s “Despicable Me,” which marked the French studio’s first foray into feature-length animation, and DreamWorks’ “Megamind.” To pretty much everyone’s surprise, the former was the bigger hit, spawning a franchise that has become one of Universal’s most profitable properties (thanks in no small part to Illumination’s official mascot, the Minions); conversely, “Megamind” remained a one-off until 2024, with the release of a direct-to-Peacock sequel that is actually the pilot of a TV series, with none of the original cast returning – including Megamind himself, Will Ferrell, who chose instead to flex his vocal bad guy muscles as the antagonist in “Despicable Me 4”.

Ferrell voices Maxime Le Mal, a former schoolmate of Gru’s (they both attended the Lycée Pas Bon, basically a high school for criminals), now out for revenge. Gru (Steve Carell) is quite upset about this, as he already has plenty on his plate: in addition to his three adopted daughters from the previous films, he and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) now have a little boy, Gru Jr., who is a bit unresponsive, if not overtly hostile, to his father’s attempts at bonding. While he tries to deal with both conundrums, the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin, who takes a break from directing this time) have a mission of their own: while Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) does concede it might be a terrible idea, they’re temporarily recruited as full-time Anti-Villain League staff, with some of them destined for greatness as this universe’s equivalent of superheroes: the Mega Minions!

While one might suspect a bit of a merchandising mentality behind that last plot point, the Minions have always been the franchise’s most reliable source of humor, thanks to their penchant for slapstick and nonsense language containing the occasional intelligible word. In fact, one can argue that since “Despicable Me 2,” these have all been minion movies with Gru as a supporting character, although the third film tried to sideline them to some degree. The series does rely on a formula, but it’s an efficient one: at the screening, this writer attended, one of the biggest laughs came courtesy of a joke that was recycled from the second installment. Chris Renaud, who returns to direct after sitting out the third film and the two Minion-centric spin-offs, has an evident affection for these yellow agents of chaos and gets to show it in what is probably the fourth movie’s high point, a tracking shot that highlights just how adorably incompetent these scene-stealing sidekicks are. Although they do get a run for their money this time around, courtesy of Gru’s mischievous toddler, who is a prime candidate for a bespoke short film.

As for the main plot, such as it is, Maxime is undoubtedly the most exciting element, not least because of his voice actor: whereas Carell allegedly channeled Béla Lugosi by way of Ricardo Montalbán for Gru, Ferrell appears to be taking inspiration from his erstwhile costar Sacha Baron Cohen, who memorably essayed an over-the-top French accent in “Talladega Nights.” His commitment to the performance gives the storyline an energy that is not entirely present in the plot structure, whether it’s due to a change behind the scenes (franchise regular Ken Daurio, who parted ways with his usual writing partner Cinco Paul, is now paired with Mike White, who also co-wrote “Migration” for the same studio) is unclear, but there’s an overstuffed, scattershot quality to the script, which goes off on tangents that don’t do much besides padding the running time. This comes at the expense of potentially interesting characters who seem to have dropped in from a different movie: Carell’s showbiz BFF Stephen Colbert is amusing as Gru’s new neighbor but let down by minimal screentime, while Sofia Vergara tries her best with the thankless role of Maxime’s girlfriend, who is essentially a sketch of a character. There’s so much going on that Gru’s mother, who usually appears at least in a silent cameo, is written out completely.

And yet, despite the meandering subplots, this remains a solidly entertaining endeavor, thanks to the animation’s European flair and the consistent gag rate, especially when it comes to physical humor, which allows the artists to fully embrace the medium’s visual nature and the evolution of digital technology, making chase scenes and pratfalls more fluid and perfectly timed than ever. When they really get it right, these movies put most contemporary live-action comedies to shame, even with something as simple and gloriously juvenile as a well-placed piece of toilet humor.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The gags are still solid and expertly timed, especially when the Minions and the baby are involved.

THE BAD - The scattershot narrative is a step down from previous installments, sometimes to the detriment of the characters.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Animated Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The gags are still solid and expertly timed, especially when the Minions and the baby are involved. <br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The scattershot narrative is a step down from previous installments, sometimes to the detriment of the characters. <br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-animated-feature/">Best Animated Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"DESPICABLE ME 4"