A star rating of 4 out of 5.

It must irk Woody, Buzz and everyone at Pixar that a comparatively latecomer rival studio can lay claim to cinema’s most successful animated franchise - one with an increasingly misleading title, to boot.


Illumination Pictures’ record-breaking boast for Despicable Me is based on box office returns for five previous outings (including two spin-offs with the scene-stealing Minions front and centre), and in truth, its lead character hasn’t been especially despicable since about midway through the first film.

Having made his bow in 2010, Gru (voiced, as always, by Steve Carell) continues to turn his back on villainy and instead focuses on bringing down the bad guys, while settling deeper into domesticity with his three orphan stepdaughters and, latterly, a wife (Kristen Wiig’s Lucy) and baby son of his own.

Happy home life takes on a twist in DM4, however, when his most recently vanquished foe, Maxime le Mal (Will Ferrell rocking an outrageous French accent), breaks out of prison and vows revenge not only on the man who put him there but his nearest and dearest too.

For their own protection, Gru, his family and little yellow henchmen are given new identities and relocated to the sleepy suburban backwater of Mayflower (“a lovely, safe, boring town”) - and, to paraphrase a well-known song, who wants to be a Minion there?

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While not an entirely original comic conceit (think Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven, or Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher in a multi-episode plot of TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine), it’s a novel way for the directors to ward off fears the initial pitch may be beginning to stagnate.

Plenty of fun is mined from Gru’s attempts to get pally with his new neighbour (Stephen Colbert’s aloof Perry), Lucy’s mishaps in her “cover” employment as a hairdresser, and their daughters’ struggles to fit in at school and during karate lessons.

Gru in Despicable Me 4
Gru in Despicable Me 4. Universal

That alone might have been enough to keep things ticking along nicely for 94 minutes, but the makers boldly risk over-egging the pudding with parallel plots, most notably when Perry’s surly teenage daughter Poppy discovers Gru’s true identity and blackmails him into helping her pull off a heist of her own.

Meanwhile, a handful of Minions who didn’t make the move to Mayflower are enrolled in a dubious experiment to give them X-Men-like superpowers - prepare yourself for the rise of the Mega-Minions!

Thankfully, co-directors Chris Renaud and Patrick Delage perform a confident juggling act, before weaving the disparate elements together for a satisfyingly thrilling showdown in the final 20 minutes.

If there is a casualty to this busy slate of action it’s Ferrell’s Maxime (plus femme fatale sidekick voiced by Modern Family’s Sophia Vergara), his devilish plan to hold the world to ransom with technology that mutates humans into cockroaches given noticeably less screen time than Gru’s nemeses in previous films.

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He may be, to all intents and purposes, a supporting player, but makes the most of it, and shines when he and Gru perform a duet of a big pop hit with a particularly apposite title (no spoilers here) before an audience facilitating cameo appearances by criminals from past entries in the franchise.

There are elements to DM4 bordering on formulaic, but the other side of the argument is that, as it’s part of an ongoing franchise, there has to be familiarity, a generous helping of what’s been wooing cinema-goers for 14 years now (the elegant retro-futurist design, Gru’s intermittent shortcomings as a family man, the inventively maniacal slapstick of the magnificent Minions).

Despite an umbrella title that still sounds like it belongs on a Morrissey single, Despicable Me shows little signs of running out of steam, even when it revisits the well-trodden terrain of what went before.

Further tales are all but inevitable for a solid, sparkling, near sitcom-structured premise that knows instinctively what fans want and how to keep them coming back for more. And there’s no crime in that.


Despicable Me 4 is released in UK cinemas on Friday 12th July 2024. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.