The Despicable Me and Minions movies deserve high praise for their blend of heartwarming storytelling, vibrant animation and infectious humor. Gru has an endearing transformation from villain to loving father and the mischievous antics of the Minions consistently deliver charm and laughter. The films’ creators have masterfully crafted a world that appeals to both children and adults, balancing slapstick comedy with genuinely touching moments. Their ability to create memorable characters and a visually stunning universe is a testament to the dedication and creativity of the talented team behind these animated hits.

This week, the fourth installment in the beloved family saga hits theaters. Aptly named Despicable Me 4, the story unfolds sometime after the third film. Gru (Steve Carell), his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig), their adopted kids Margot, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Madison Polan), and their new baby, Gru Jr., are placed into a protection program after Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell) escapes from prison, vowing revenge on Gru. Most of the Minions are relocated to AVL HQ, where five of them are transformed into super-Minions, each with unique powers.

As everyone adjusts to their new lives, Gru is recruited by his neighbor’s teenage daughter, Poppy (Joey King), to steal a honey badger from Gru’s alma mater.

So, from my brief description, you might have some questions. Things like, “Which part of the story is the main plot?” or “How cool are those superpowers?” And you’ll probably still be asking those questions when the end credits roll.

Despicable Me 4 is a mess in terms of story flow. It feels like the writers had multiple ideas and decided to shoehorn them all in. The main plot seems to be Maxime’s revenge tour, so you’d expect the side plots to connect back to that thread. But they don’t. The mega-minion storyline, while funny, could be removed without affecting the outcome. The adventure to steal the honey badger? It has a small connection to the main story, but feels overly lengthy, more like runtime-padding than anything else.

Despicable Me 4 feels more like a series of 15-minute short stories loosely attached to a central theme.

While jumbled, DM4 is still funny and heartwarming. As with the entire series, the Minions offer a healthy dose of comedy. While much of it is slapstick akin to the Looney Tunes cartoons I grew up with, it works perfectly in the film. This happens to be one of the biggest strengths of the franchise: it doesn’t take itself seriously. It is perfectly fine with offering over-the-top humor within a story of a dad and mom raising four kids.

One minute, Gru is giving Margot a pep talk for her first day of school, and the next he is whipping a Minion like a jockey on a racehorse to escape an angry granny in a wheelchair that looks like it was forged in the fires of hell, itself. Not many film franchises can pull this off across multiple films, but the Despicable Me franchise thrives on it. However, this might be coming to an end due to trying to do too much.

Despicable Me 4 deserves praise for its balance of being family-friendly, yet still highly entertaining for adults. It blends heartwarming moments and life lessons with humor that appeals to all ages, creating a cinematic experience where parents and children can laugh together. The clever writing, filled with witty oneliners and subtle jokes aimed at an older audience, ensures the films are not just kid-centric. Meanwhile, the engaging storylines, dynamic characters and vibrant animation capture the imaginations of viewers young and old. This ability to cater to a broad audience while maintaining a wholesome, fun atmosphere is a testament to the entire franchise’s enduring charm and universal appeal.

I give Despicable Me 4 a four-out-of-five-star rating. The film continues the tradition of being a fun, family-friendly experience while incorporating some tender moments. The Minions remain the comedic backbone, driving many of the more interesting side plots. However, the charm is starting to wear thin. The pacing of Despicable Me 4 is jarringly off, with many of those same side plots feeling like filler to reach the 90-minute runtime. Hopefully, this is a one-off issue with the creative and writing teams and not a sign of things to come.

If it is a glimpse into the future, the franchise might be in deep trouble.