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'Despicable Me 4': Almost Unwatchable

‘Despicable Me 4’: Almost Unwatchable
This image released by Illumination and Universal Pictures shows Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, in a scene from “Despicable Me 4.” | Illumination & Universal Pictures

In our home, we classify children’s media into two categories: garbage and not-garbage. In the not-garbage category, you’ll find shows and movies that offer some learning value. This doesn’t always mean academic learning, although we enjoy “Numberblocks” and “Brainchild” on Netflix for their educational content on numbers and science. Some shows teach social skills, like “Daniel Tiger” on PBS, while others like “Bluey” and any Pixar movie on Disney+ explore complex emotions.

The garbage category, however, includes most of what you’ll find on YouTube: videos of other kids playing with toys, shoddy animation, and content filled with crude jokes that my children might repeat at school or in public. My 5-year-old son will sometimes call out from the basement, “I’m not watching garbage,” which invariably means he’s watching a 7-year-old in Indiana describing each of his action figures. He’s just trying to throw us off the scent.

The distinction between garbage and not-garbage isn’t strict. When my kids were younger, and I needed some quiet time, “Cocomelon” was a go-to. Its animation is terrible and the songs are obnoxious, but it puts toddlers in a trance. “Blippi” teaches children about animals, colors, and how things work, but the host is so grating that it’s squarely in the garbage category for us and is banned forever. While the line is fluid, I usually know garbage when I see it. And I usually know not-garbage when I see it.

However, I find it difficult to categorize “Despicable Me 4.”

“Despicable Me 4,” which premiered last week, is the third sequel to the original “Despicable Me” and the sixth movie in the franchise including two “Minions” films. Over the past week, it’s raked in $122.6 million at the box office, thanks to families like mine who spent part of the holiday weekend in theaters excited for a movie we could all enjoy together.

We are no strangers to the franchise. As a family, we’ve seen each of the previous “Despicable Me” films and both “Minions” spin-offs. While they aren’t strictly educational, they carry messages about the importance of family and coming together, along with a few good jokes. They were entertaining enough and had enough emotional content to be considered not-garbage, which is what I expected from the fourth installment.

“Despicable Me 4” maintains the same fun, cartoony animation as its predecessors. It’s visually enjoyable, and the characters are voiced by Steve Carell, Kristin Wiig, and Steve Coogan, making it pleasant to listen to as well. However, the story lacks coherence. Or rather, it has too many subplots—one for nearly every character and the minion crew—which barely connect until the end. The resolution feels like a broken vase poorly glued back together. Some sequences were funny but irrelevant to the plot, and some jokes were of the “I hope my kid doesn’t repeat this at school” variety. Unfortunately, those jokes garnered the biggest laughs from the kids in the audience, including mine.

I don’t expect Shakespearean storytelling from Illumination Studios, especially for a film targeted at kindergartners. But the story was so disjointed that I couldn’t help but feel like I wasted $75 on tickets for what seemed like a cash grab. This is especially disappointing after “Inside Out 2,” which I’ve taken each of my children to see without hesitation due to its important message about mental health.

However, I don’t want every animated feature to aim for Pixar’s emotional depth. Sometimes, I just want to take my kids to the movies and enjoy a simple, funny story with an easy-to-understand message—something that comfortably fits into the not-garbage category. That’s what I was hoping for with “Despicable Me 4.”

Instead, I got a movie that, if watched at home, would prompt my son to insist, “I’m not watching garbage,” and I would know that he was. It’s also a movie I regret spending $75 on, as I don’t want to encourage the production of similar films.

“Despicable Me 4” is rated PG for mild violence, gore, and mild profanity.

Source: Illumination & Universal Pictures