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Despicable Me 4 has plenty of silly antics, but the story lacks substance

A scene from Despicable Me 4 Universal Studios/Getty Images

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, July 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new animated family movie for this Fourth of July weekend. Arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino reviews Despicable Me 4.


COLLIN GARBARINO: This week a new installment in Illumination Studios’ reliably entertaining Despicable Me franchise opens in theaters. Gru and his minions are back and they must face a dangerous new enemy while navigating some new family challenges.

Steve Carell returns as the voice of the somewhat cranky, mostly reformed supervillain Gru, who leads a gang of yellow minions as he works for the Anti-Villain League. In each installment of Despicable Me, Gru gets some new family members. First he adopts three adorable little girls. Then he falls in love and gets married. Then he finds his long-lost brother. In Despicable Me 4, Gru and his wife Lucy have to keep up with a little baby boy.

GRU: Junior! Junior, come back here! Don’t touch anything. No, no no no no.

But having a rambunctious and somewhat cranky baby around the house isn’t the family’s biggest problem. Maxime Le Mal is a rival from Gru’s past days as a villain. Will Farrell voices Maxime with an over-the-top French accent that makes his normal voice almost unrecognizable. When Maxime breaks out of prison swearing revenge on Gru, the Anti-Villain League is so concerned that they send the Gru family into hiding.

SILAS RAMSBOTTOM: For your own safety, you’ll all be assuming new identities.

GRU: New identities? Is that really necessary?

Gru becomes a solar panel salesman named Chet. His wife Lucy, a hairstylist named Blanche. And the whole family must adjust to an upper-middle class suburban lifestyle. Not everyone is on board with dissembling.

AGNES: We aren’t supposed to lie.

GRU: Don’t think of it as lying. Think of it as high-stakes pretending.

AGNES: Well, I’m not going to.

Some of the humor relies on taking the everyday conversations parents have with their kids and turning them on their heads.

GRU: Why can’t you be more like your sister Edith. She lies all the time.

EDITH: No I don’t.

GRU: See! See! She’s lying right now!

The family struggles to live normally in suburbia. Gru can’t get respect from the neighbors. Lucy fails abysmally at her new job. And the girls have trouble fitting in and making friends. In the midst of this, Gru gets conned into a heist, where we see the world’s greatest thief dust off his old villain skills.

GRU: You know… the most important part of a heist is being constantly aware of potential dangers.

[Minions start panicking]

Of course, nothing goes according to plan.



POLLY: Oh no! I ruined our heist!

Despicable Me 4 is rated PG for some rude humor—most of it having to do with Gru Junior’s diaper. There’s also plenty of comic action and slapstick violence. Those yellow minions sure can take a beating. And speaking of the minions, there's a subplot in which five of them get superpowers reminiscent of comic book characters.


Fans will undoubtedly love this latest installment that contains all the typical madcap mayhem. But don’t expect too much from the plot. The various scenes are amusing in isolation, but they don’t hang together well. Maxime is the dangerous supervillain everyone’s so afraid of, but he’s missing from two-thirds of the movie. Much of the second act comprises unrelated comic bits in which the family members fail at suburbia.

The Gru family keeps growing. And the screenwriters are faced with the challenge of giving every member their moment in the script without letting the story get disjointed. They don’t really pull it off.

And the subplot involving mega minions with superpowers? It feels like an attempt to pad the thinness of this 95 minute film. Even the screenwriters seem aware that they’ve compiled a series of sly jokes about movie tropes rather than a cohesive story. One of the characters even says, “I’m sick of superheroes.”

Despite the failings of its narrative structure, kids will enjoy the movie for what it is—a silly romp full of ridiculous moments. But older fans might not find enough substance to warrant repeat viewings.


I’m Collin Garbarino.

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