Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Despicable Me 4: More Minions

He shares a name with the current Russian and former Soviet military intelligence agencies, so Gru ought to be evil. Of course, most of America knows he started out as a supervillain, but he defected to the good guys. His villainous background still comes in handy, to catch his old supervillain rivals. This time, he battles his former school bully, who has a thing for cockroaches. As usual, Gru cannot count on the dubious help of the Minions in Chris Renaud & Patrick Delage’s Illumination-produced Despicable Me 4, which opens tomorrow pretty much anywhere that has a movie screen.

For 99% of the people interested in this film, all you need know is Minions cause Minion chaos and it is still funny. There is also a story, if you care.

Working with the Anti-Villain League (AVL), Felonious Gru returns for his evil prep school’s reunion, hoping to bust his former classmate Maxime Le Mal and his femme fatale sidekick, Valentina. Somehow, he pulls it off, even though the Minions are not much help. However, Le Mal quickly escapes from AVL, swearing vengeance.

Consequently, AVL chief Silas Ramsbottom (freshly reinstated after a short-lived retirement) creates new identities for Gru and his family, installing them in a safe-house next door to young Poppy Prescott, an aspiring super villain and Gru’s biggest fan. Some of the Minions stay with Gru, but Ramsbottom brings most of them to AVL headquarters.

He has a grand scheme to transform them into superheroes, who will known as the “Mega-Minions.” Obviously, this is a terrible idea, as the initial test subjects prove. Inevitably, their super-heroics cause more damage than they prevent.

Despicable Me films featuring Gru have evolved into a rather sweet family story, with the reformed villain happily married to AVL agent Lucy Wilde and doing his best to parent their three adopted daughters and baby Gru Jr. Yet, that remains a comparatively minor theme compared to the slapstick minion madness.

Basically, the minions still combine the most annoying characteristics of five-year-old children and a plague of locusts. They cannot help creating mayhem. It is just their nature. However, that gives Renaud, veteran franchise writer Ken Daurio, and co-screenwriter Mike White bountiful opportunities to create crazy gags. The Minions constantly devise new and amusing ways to knock each other over and break things.

As a result, it is easy to overlook the artistry of the animation amid the maelstrom of lunacy. There are several scenes that are actually quite impressive, including Gru’s final showdown with Le Mal atop a vertigo-inducing skyscraper.

Returning as the voice of Gru, Steve Carell nicely humanizes the big lug. Steve Coogan also sounds fittingly pompous as old Ramsbottom. However, many of the big-name celebrity voice bring little value-added. In particular, Will Farrell so underwhelms as Le Mal, they probably would have been better off recasting with a professional voice-actor.

All of that hardly matters, because the Minions keep doing their thing. That Minion madness is a prime reason why Illumination has probably surpassed Disney as the most trusted name in family animation. There is no social messaging in
Despicable Me 4, beyond families stick together. It is entirely free of identity politics and inappropriate subject matter. Instead, it just delivers goofy fun. Recommended as stress-free family viewing, Despicable Me 4 opens tomorrow (7/3) in theaters.