The director of “Despicable Me 4” on Mega-Minions, GentleMinions and cameos

Despicable Me 4 introduces a new bundle of joy to the popular cartoon franchise and also features some long-planned Minions shenanigans that have finally come to fruition.

The fourth installment in the Universal film series from Illumination Entertainment hit theaters on Wednesday, just before the Fourth of July weekend. Will Ferrell, Sofía Vergara, Joey King, Stephen Colbert and Chloe Fineman are part of the voice cast, along with returning Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig and Miranda Cosgrove.

Despicable Me 4 revolves around Gru (Carell) and his family – including the newest member, Gru Jr. – who are on the run after a threat from the villain Maxime Le Mal (Ferrell). Also adding to the action are the Mega-Minions, a quartet of mischievous henchmen endowed with superpowers of questionable value, a concept first introduced years ago for Dispicable Me 2but the idea was not used.

Director Chris Renaud, who directed the 2010 original film and the 2013 sequel, tells The Hollywood Reporter about the collaboration with the sought-after screenwriter Mike White (creator of The White Lotus), the challenge of parodying superheroes, what the social media trend “GentleMinions” says about the fan base and whether the series is actually about to get an MCU-style expansion.

(from left) Maxime (Will Ferrell) and Gru (Steve Carell) in “Despicable Me 4”, directed by Chris Renaud.

Maxime (Will Ferrell) and Gru (Steve Carell) in Despicable Me 4.

Lighting and universal images

Where do you start when creating a sequel to this series?

This film actually started with the family problem of leaving their beloved home and essentially entering a witness relocation program. Originally the villain was just a big threatening, dangerous presence and more inconspicuous than what we got with Maxime Le Mal.

Mike White is credited for his work on the screenplay. Why was he the right fit for this universe and how much of his script is in the film?

When we made the villain a high school rival, we had actually presented this to Mike before. So he took that and started working on how to balance those elements. Mike did several drafts, and that becomes the basis of the film, with the villain and the family dynamic. Ken Daurio, one of the original writers of the first three Despicable Me Films, came in and helped us with the second part of the process. The Mega Minions thing came up later when we were trying to figure out what to do with the Minions, and then we really developed the idea further with storyboarding and animation.

Will Ferrell, Chris Renaud, Kristen Wiig, Chris Meledandri and Steve Carell attend the premiere of “Despicable Me 4”.

Will Ferrell, Chris Renaud, Kristen Wiig, Chris Meledandri and Steve Carell visit the Despicable Me 4 Premiere.

Christina DeOrtentiis/Everett Collection

The film deals with some superhero cliches in an entertaining way. How did you approach the topic and were there any concerns about alienating fans of superhero projects?

We have actually been talking about giving the Minions superpowers since Dispicable Me 2. We even dug out some old sketches because they became the purple evil Minions in this film. Of course, there's not only plenty of superhero material, but there's plenty of comedic superhero material that's been done in both live-action and animation. Their incompetence and Minion-like traits are what allowed us to make them seem like a fresh take on superheroes.

Seemingly fitting to this installment, there was a satirical commercial for the film in which Steve Carell lays out a never-ending list of upcoming films in the franchise, similar to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe announces projects. Were you involved in creating it?

This is the wonderful marketing team that supports our films and they have done a great job here. I have actually gotten questions about it. I think people believe that it is real and that we are actually planning this. (Laughs.)

How did you come up with the idea of ​​giving Will Ferrell the voice of the villain?

Personally, I have always wanted to work with him. I am a huge fan of his work and his character work. It is no mistake that we Saturday Night Live People all the time – Chloe Fineman has a part in the film – because they're wonderful character creators and are able to create a character in a very short period of time. Who can do that better than Will? He came with this great French accent.

(from left) Gru Jr., Gru (Steve Carell), Poppy Prescott (Joey King) and Minions (Pierre Coffin) in “Despicable Me 4”, directed by Chris Renaud.

Despicable Me 4

Lighting and universal images

Seeing the Minions in suits in the new movie made me think of the GentleMinions social media trend a few years ago among younger fans of the franchise. How did you react to that trend?

The Minions’ suits were probably more of an allusion to Men in Black than specifically thinking of GentleMinions. But this trend was really pleasing to see, and for the young people who made it, it's something they claim as their own because it came out when they were kids. What's interesting about Despicable Me What's happened over the last 15 years is that the kids who saw the first movie between the ages of 5 and 10 – that age when you go to the movies – they carry it with them as something of their own. Aside from the power of social media to create movements, I think that's partly what you see. I've had some nice experiences when I've spoken to a class and young high school students have come up to me and said how much the movies mean to them. That's very gratifying.

I know there may not be an MCU-style plan, but have you thought about other movie ideas or possible spin-offs?

There are always conversations like that and what we can do and where we can go with the characters. There's nothing concrete right now, especially since I just finished this one, but there are always conversations like that about where else they can go and what changes we can make. How can we keep it exciting and fresh? We'll see what happens.

The familiar franchise faces appearing in the new film received huge acclaim when the film was screened at the Annecy Animation Festival. Did you enjoy deciding who would reappear?

Absolutely. I think I was able to fit in absolutely everyone I wanted. It's just been a great experience to think about all the characters that have come and gone in this universe over the last 15 years. [Audiences should] Keep an eye out for characters that have appeared in the films over the years.

Animation seems to be having a real moment right now, especially with the huge success of Inside Out 2How do you assess the situation in the industry and do you feel any pressure ahead of your opening weekend?

A box office success like that is only good news for all of us as it hopefully lifts all boats. To be honest, I don't think one comes at the expense of the other. There will be pressure in the sense that we will inevitably be compared to other people out there, simply because that's what people do. But I don't think it's a worthwhile comparison because they are two different things. The success not only Inside Out 2But Kung Fu Panda 4, [The] Garfield [Movie] And migrationan original film – they all draw people to the cinema and that is a success. Now it is just up to us to make something worth coming to.