The minions are great supporting players in the “Despicable Me” animated film series from Illumination Entertainment. The adorable little yellow creatures, who speak gibberish and get themselves into all kinds of mischief, provided some additional comic relief as they supported their master, the supervillain Gru. Now, as the quirky characters have exploded in popularity, they star in their own movie, simply titled “Minions”. It’s a similar situation to that of Dreamworks recently giving the penguins from their “Madagascar” franchise their own feature, which met with mixed results. The same can be said for “Minions”, which is entertaining enough but lacks the charm of both “Despicable Me” films.
“Minions” is a prequel to “Despicable Me”, and begins at the dawn of time, where narrator Geoffrey Rush describes their immediate desire to serve the most powerful villain they can find. If you’re looking to learn more about minion lore, however, you’re out of luck, as their origins aren’t really the main plot of the story and are presented rather vaguely. What does ensue is a montage of minions trying and failing to serve their masters, from accidentally sending a T-Rex falling into a volcano, to exposing a vampire to sunlight while trying to throw him a birthday party. After a while, the minions retreat into a remote, icy cave, where they build their own civilization. Over the years, however, they grow increasingly depressed without a master to serve.
That’s where the minion called Kevin comes in. He decides to leave the cave and find a villain for his tribe to serve, taking along the not-so-bright Stuart and the adorable little Bob with him. They eventually find themselves in New York City, circa 1968, where they learn about Villain Con, a secret gathering of supervillains and their fans in Orlando. It’s there that they are recruited by the world’s greatest villain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), who takes the minions to England with her where she intends to use them to steal the Queen’s crown. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and the minions are soon trying to save themselves from Scarlet’s wrath.
There are several issues with “Minions”. For one thing, there just aren’t any likable characters to get behind. Scarlet is fun but rather weak as a villain (although this is a kid’s movie, so none of the villains are going to actually be that evil). Her laid-back husband Herb (Jon Hamm) also serves as her resident gadget inventor and torture chamber handler, and he gets some of the funniest parts in the movie. There’s a family of criminals who take the minions to Orlando and pop up throughout the movie, but without serving much purpose (the mom and dad are, however, entertainingly voiced by Allison Janney and Michael Keaton). And then there are the minions (who are all voiced by the film’s co-director Pierre Coffin). Don’t get me wrong, they’re just as cute and funny and they were in “Despicable Me”. The problem here is that they’re the ones propelling the action. And it’s not that they’re bad protagonists because we can’t understand a word they say (minion language appears to be some combination of Spanish, English, and little French, and who knows what else); a lot of their humor is slapstick based, and no translation is necessary. But they don’t change at all throughout the film. Almost everything they do seems to happen by accident, and they just go with it. They don’t go through any internal struggle. They don’t learn any lesson. That’s what made “Despicable Me” so wonderful—Gru went through all of that. The minions just glide through everything like it’s one big joke, and that’s basically what this movie is.
The plot is also very thin, so much so that there are a lot of unnecessary scenes that feel like filler just to get the running time up to ninety minutes, like a sequence in which Stuart and Kevin lose Bob in New York. The climax isn’t very exciting either, although there is a fun chase sequence earlier in the film in which the minions try to steal the Queen’s crown. The very cartoony, over-exaggerated style of animation lends itself well to these scenes. Most of the jokes are good, some more amusing than others, like when none of the instruments in Herb’s torture chamber work on the minions. There are also a lot of fun pop culture references that will likely go over the kids’ heads, including a rendition of Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh”; as this movie is primarily set in the 1960s, there are a lot of references to that era, such as a humorous minion version of the theme from “The Monkees”.
Despite its faults, fans of “Despicable Me” will enjoy the film’s ending, even though you can probably already guess what happens. Hopefully, with the way this movie ended, it won’t warrant a “Minions” sequel. But with the amount of money it made in its opening weekend, someone will likely find a way to make it work. Until something better comes along, rewatch “Despicable Me” instead, and enjoy the minions the way they should be—as supporting players.
Runtime: 91 minutes. Rated PG for action and rude humor.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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