Anything But Despicable

I haven’t been able to find much positive inspiration lately; certainly not in the last few days.  And a holiday weekend devoid of the preponderance of summer blockbusters that once dominated multiplexes didn’t offer the cornucopia of welcome distractions from the world at large that often saved many of us from nervous breakdowns.

But, thankfully, there was at least one bright light–indeed, bright yellow and large-eyed–that shone favorably, and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Pamela McClintock happily shared the news with her readers yesterday:

Illumination and Universal’s Minions franchise isn’t getting any worse for the wear as Despicable Me 4 rules the Fourth of July box office with an estimated five-day opening of $120 million, including a three-day weekend haul of $72.4 million.

That’s in line with expectations and a strong start for the fourth outing in the main franchise, and the sixth in the Despicable Me/Minions series, which ranks as the top-grossing animated franchise of all time.

And this performance was a more than welcome reminder of two truisms I’ve come to adopt as gospel truth.  One is that even in these dire times, there is a both a need and a formula for box office success, which COLLIDER’s Rahul Malhotra pointed out:

The animated four-quel will dethrone the mega-hit Inside Out 2, setting up a long overdue return to box office dominance for animated movies. Inside Out 2 has been breaking records over the last three weeks, and has already passed the massive $500 million milestone domestically, and the $1 billion milestone worldwide. Despicable Me 4, which arrives seven years after the main franchise’s last installment, will aim to build on Inside Out 2’s momentum as opposed to being cannibalized by it.  The Despicable Me franchise has always played to younger children, for whom reviews don’t really matter. The film holds a “rotten” 54% approval rating on the aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, which unfortunately happens to be the lowest in the series’ history.

But I dare say that appeal goes wider, and clearly extends to the silent majority that doesn’t exclusively see moviemaking as a dark, serious endeavor.  And that vision is one that I’m aware has driven the man responsible for this franchise ever since I first met him.   Just about two years ago, when the most recent installment of THE MINIONS spin-off hit theatres, I penned a musing about my unlikely dalliance with the man who thought a Gru-verse was a viable idea, Illumination Studios prexy Chris Melandandri.   I hope you’ll give it a thorough read in case you’re new to this space; I know it was one of the more enjoyable recollections I’ve been able to share.  But if you’re busy, I’ll excerpt this particularly telling nugget which might help you better understand why I’m in such a good mood yet again:

(W)hen Haim Saban asked me to meet with the head of FOX Animation Studios, an up-and-coming producer named Chris Melendandri, I considered it an honor.  In the course of one lunch at the glorified FOX commissary, I felt a connection and a kindred spirit to him.   He explained then what he later articulated in a Hollywood Reporter article–he considers animation a universal language, as effective imagery needs little dialogue and often, not even translation.  He asked me to share some of my experience with the evolution of THE SIMPSONS, for which I had a front-row seat during its evolution from animated short to network game-changer.  What I picked up at the time was the relatability of each of the main characters to anyone anywhere at any life stage–you either were that person or you loved someone who was.  The lovable schlub of a dad, the impish perpetually ten-year-old son, the loyal doting wife, the brainy middle child, the omniscient silent baby.

Melendandri said he appreciated that insight; he had attempted to reach out to the 20th Century FOX team he was a part of and gotten radio silence.  I was stunned, since I honestly could tell what a genuinely nice guy he was.

And as proof that there’s more than merely frustrated and overheated families seeking refuge and a big screen baby-sitter, allow me to share this recent testimonial from a contributor to FANDOM WIRE:

My name is Sean Anthony Boelman. I am of sound mind and body, and on July 4, 2024, I saw Despicable Me 4 four times in a row in theaters.  No, this is not a joke, nor did I lose a bet — I did this of my own free will. Why?

What better way to celebrate America’s birthday than to sit in a theater for approximately eight hours (including time between showings) watching an animated film by a French studio? Plus, there was the convenient branding of watching the fourth film in the franchise four times on July 4.

The author then proceeded to offer the pros and cons of the four versions of the movie available in a quest to fill the many otherwise dark screens in this desert landscape of a summer–Dolby Cinema, Standard 2-D, IMAX and RealD3D.  For the record, his value proposition recommend is Dolby, but your mileage may vary.

But Boelman’s conclusion is perhaps the most telling reason why, like clockwork, a movie from the Gru-verse rules yet again:

I love movie theaters. I have spent much of my life going to the cinema multiple times a week. I’ll often do double — even triple features (sometimes seven movies in a single day when I’m at a film festival).  But by seeing Despicable Me 4 four times, I contributed four admissions to the box office at a time when theaters need the support. The last film in the franchise, Minions: The Rise of Gru, came out at a crucial time in the summer on the heels of an unexpected smash hit (Top Gun: Maverick). Despicable Me 4 is in the same situation following Inside Out 2.

Sure, people like Boelman are outliers.  But when given a compelling enough reason to schlep out, one can potentially reconnect with those kind of positive memories that movie outings used to provide more frequently and there’s at least a chance of stumbling upon a coming attraction that might pique one’s interest enough to at least put it back into the consideration list.

Which brings me to the second truism:  Nice guys don’t always finish last.  And if a mensch like Melendandri and his own minions can help restore audience passion and investor confidence, that’s real reason for celebratory fireworks.

As they say in Hollywood, Grazie.

Until next time…

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