Despicable Me 4 – An exciting, bold new era of Minions mischief

In the first Despicable Me movie in seven years, Gru, the world’s favorite supervillain-turned-Anti-Villain League-agent, returns for an exciting, bold new era of Minions mischief in Illumination’s Despicable Me 4.

The franchise’s narrative, centered on the unconventional journey of a supervillain-turned-parent and the irrepressible charm of the Minions, strikes a chord by celebrating the transformative power of love and family.

“Since we released the first Despicable Me in 2010, our audience has grown up with these movies,” Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri says. “We have fans who watched as children and are now teenagers, while others who were teenagers then are now young parents. With each new movie, we approach it with the same level of intention and aspiration as we did with the first. Our creative team, from directors and writers to actors and artists, strives for originality and excellence and is always mindful of our audience’s expectations. We’re committed to upholding the standard our fans expect and ensuring each film brings joy and laughter. We’re incredibly grateful for their loyalty over this fifteen-year journey. I take tremendous pride in Despicable Me and its sequels. Being part of movies that resonate deeply across generations and cultures, bringing genuine happiness, is truly remarkable.”

Central to the franchise’s success is Chris Renaud, whose visionary storytelling and world-building prowess have been instrumental in shaping its identity. From its inception, Renaud has shaped the narrative landscape of Despicable Me with depth and authenticity, crafting worlds that seamlessly blend the fantastical with the familiar. Having directed the first two installments of the series, along with Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets franchise and The Lorax, Renaud has helped propel the Despicable Me franchise to unprecedented heights.

Renaud emphasizes that sustaining the long-running franchise hinges on maintaining its freshness. “Our goal is to cater to the audience’s affection for these characters while infusing new elements to invigorate the narrative,” Renaud says. “Similar to the depth of the characters in the James Bond franchise, we delve into Gru’s world of supervillains and heroes, intricately woven with his family life. Each installment presents new challenges for Gru, both professionally and personally, ensuring a dynamic and engaging storyline that keeps audiences returning to the theater.”

Packed with non-stop action and filled with Illumination’s signature subversive humour, Despicable Me 4 follows the 2022 summer blockbuster phenomenon of Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, which earned almost $1 billion worldwide, the biggest global animated franchise in history now begins a new chapter as Gru and their girls welcome a new member to the Gru family, Gru Jr., who is intent on tormenting his dad. Gru faces a new nemesis in Maxime Le Mal and his femme fatale girlfriend Valentina and the family is forced to go on the run, take on new identities, and begin new lives in the picturesque town of Mayflower.

The script for Despicable Me 4 benefited from the contributions of series veteran Ken Daurio and Emmy-winner Mike White, known for his work on The White Lotus and Illumination’s Migration. “When we were working with Mike White on Migration, we started discussing what might come next,” Meledandri says. “I asked him if he’d be interested in writing a movie within the Despicable Me world, and he immediately lit up. The first idea I shared was about Gru encountering a villain so threatening that he realized he and his family would need to go into hiding, essentially like witness protection, and assume new identities. This intrigued Mike; he liked the idea of taking a family unit and putting them in an entirely new situation to see how they’d respond.” Hoffman adds: “Mike’s storytelling skills and sharp wit are unparalleled, and Ken’s deep understanding of this franchise is invaluable. They’ve created a narrative that’s infused with fresh energy while staying true to the humor and heart that defines Despicable Me.”

Upon delving into the film’s script, Renaud found parallels with his own experiences. “The family’s turmoil in having to relocate struck a chord with me,” Renaud says. “It reminded me of my own experiences of moving as a teenager. The script cleverly explores the challenges that come with integrating into a new environment, which I think will resonate with many. While not everyone juggles the complexities of secret identities alongside relocation, Mike’s trademark blend of comedy and drama shines in this story.”

In shaping the comedic essence of the film, the team drew inspiration from comedy classics. “We’ve always looked to Warner Brothers cartoons, Buster Keaton’s timeless humor and Peter Sellers’ irreverent charm for comedic inspiration,” Renaud says. “These influences set the tone for humor right from the start. It’s that blend of physical comedy, playful yet silly, that made our films stand out, especially in an animated world where that kind of humor wasn’t the norm back when Despicable Me came out.”

The inclusion of newcomers in the creative team infused Despicable Me 4 with renewed energy, ensuring its place alongside its predecessors while carving a unique path. “Listening to the team’s ideas and inspiring them to deliver their best has been key,” Renaud says. “These ideas often elevate scenes from great to exceptional, and that collaborative spirit defines our journey in crafting Despicable Me 4.”

To co-direct Despicable Me 4,the filmmakers enlisted Patrick Delage, whose illustrious career began at Walt Disney Pictures, where he contributed to renowned films such as Ratatouille and WALL-E, before transitioning to Illumination. “Patrick brought with him a wealth of experience from Disney to Pixar, making him a luminary in the animation world,” Renaud says. “Since I started as a storyboard artist, Patrick, as an animator, offered a unique perspective; he noticed details I might have overlooked. And his contributions extended beyond animation; Patrick had a ton of ideas and sketches and was constantly dedicated to elevating our project to its fullest potential.”

Delage’s primary focus on Despicable Me 4 was on the animation, where he worked closely with a team of talented animators. “Throughout production, I constantly sought out new ideas and solutions to help enrich the storytelling process,” Delage says. “Naturally, I supported Chris whenever challenges came up, as filmmaking inherently involves problem-solving. Chris’ thorough knowledge of the franchise was invaluable in maintaining continuity and avoiding repetition. His tremendous focus and great sense of humor created an amazing collaborative energy.”

Chris Meledandri attends Universal Pictures And Illumination Present “Despicable Me 4” Premiere on June 09, 2024 in New York City, with Chris Renaud (left) and Patrick Delage (right) (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Universal Pictures and Illumination) © Getty Images

Despicable Me 4 is the newest chapter in the largest animated franchise in history. What an extraordinary journey it has been since you released the first movie back in 2010, right?

Well, when we started working on Despicable Me and were making the movie, as a filmmaking team – led by directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud – we realized that we really liked these characters. We loved Gru and the girls and the Minions, but we had no idea that they would go on to live in another movie, yet alone five more!

What enables you to continue making these films?

The excitement of the artists at Illumination. As long as that excitement exists to keep exploring and living adventures with these characters, we’re going to be able to make more movies.

And what has it meant for you to be the driving force behind this franchise?

Well, certainly the highlight of my professional career is the realization that I’ve brought together a group of extraordinarily talented people who have created these films that – over the last almost fifteen years – have been bringing joy to audiences around the world. There’s absolutely no better feeling imaginable than the realization of how much joy these now six Despicable Me based movies have brought. And now we believe that with Despicable Me 4 we have an idea that can propel us into a new adventure – a new journey that’s truly worthy of the fandom these films have earned.

What is that idea?

Despicable Me 4 is about Gru having a baby son. It’s something we thought about for a number of years, but that really clicked when we realized that if Gru had a son he should have an uncanny resemblance to him. And then we realized there was a huge opportunity in Gru being so enamored with his son that, when he expresses that love for him, it’s actually his baby son who rebuffs him. So, the idea that Gru has a son who doesn’t like his dad felt like a key to a subversive relationship between father and son that we hadn’t seen before. The journey that we go on in Despicable Me 4 is the journey of these two characters finally finding their relationship with each other. 

And you have a powerful new villain in Maxime Le Mal, voiced by Will Ferrell.

When we were working with Mike White on Migration we started to talk about what we might do next. I asked him whether or not he would have any interest in writing a movie in the world of Despicable Me, and he immediately lit up. The first idea that I shared with him was about Gru encountering a villain who was so threatening that, until he’s apprehended, Gru and his family would need to go into hiding and assume new identities. That immediately intrigued Mike, who liked the idea of taking a family unit and putting them in an entirely new situation, seeing how they would respond. So, this became the foundation for the story, and from there we began to discover other elements, like the danger of our new villain Maxime Le Mal, voiced by Will Ferrell. We haven’t seen a film with Steve Carell and Will Ferrell since Anchorman and its sequel, and it’s just fantastic to watch them squaring off each other.

Another fun surprise audiences will discover in Despicable Me 4 are the Mega Minions, with their unique superpowers. What is your favorite thing about them?

I think my favorite thing about the Mega Minions – who have these superpowers – is that at their heart they are just Minions. They’re not great superheroes, being as flawed as Minions are in any movie. So, the Mega Minions are delightful to watch not just because of their powers, but because of their flaws. No matter how high their aspirations are, they always manage to screw up, and it’s in watching those screw ups that we get so much joy.

Which superpower would you like to have?

I think it would be the power to relax, as it’s the one thing we don’t have a lot of at Illumination, as we keep going from movie to movie. So, I aspire to be able to not take things too seriously because, even though we are making joyous comedies, we actually take the making of these films very, very seriously. People would be surprised about the intensity level that’s maintained here simply trying to bring joy to audiences.

Why do you believe these Despicable Me films are multigenerational and such a joy for the whole family?

Well, we released the first Despicable Me in 2010, and that audience has grown up with these movies. You have people who saw the film when they were four and now are teenagers, as well as people who saw it when they were fourteen and now may even be young parents. And we’ve watched how these multiple generations – not just in America but all over the world – have grown up with the franchise. With Minions: Rise of Gru we observed that teenage and young adult audiences came rushing back to the theater, some of whom had been away for one or two films. They were driven by nostalgia and by the desire to share the movie with their kids in the same way their parents had shared it with them. And it is this really wonderful phenomena where audiences from all over the world come to the theatre to experience joy in all its forms. Their relationship with these characters has become so close over the years, which is a huge responsibility for all of us at Illumination – meaning that there’s not a moment where we can take a single audience member for granted. Every time we set out to make a new movie, we set out with the same level of intention and aspiration that we did that very first time.

And most of the team from the original movie are still involved.

Yes, and we share this joy together. Chris Renaud, who directed the original film with Pierre Coffin, is back to direct Despicable Me 4. Steve Carell has been with us every step of the way, as has Kristen Wiig. And even though we have brought in an extraordinary writer like Mike White, we still have Ken Daurio – who was part of the first four films as a writer – helping on this one. So, it’s a creative ensemble that goes back to the first movie, where we demand from each other and ourselves the most originality and excellence we can provide.

So, how do you feel about it all from your position as producer and head of the studio?

Well, being the steward of this world, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility. It’s a responsibility to the audience, holding ourselves to the standard people have come to expect from us. With every new project we aim to bring joy and laughter to our audience, which is something we take tremendous pride in, and we are unbelievably appreciative for the loyalty that our fans have had with us during this 15-year journey.