ZANY MINION MISCHIEF
AND THE OKAY PREQUEL FEATURE
Back in 2010, the animated movie Despicable Me exploded into theaters, introducing viewers to the Minions. These tiny yellow gibberish child-like speaking henchmen were meant for sidebar moments of comic relief in the movie as the film’s narrative thread followed Gru, the lovable supervillian, and his recently adopted family. By the time Despicable Me 2 came out in 2013, it was clear that the Minions were big draw to this sequel, granted a larger premise in the story as well as ample screen time. Two years later, the Minions are back with their own sole prequel tale titled Minions. Is this origin animation worth seeing or is it just nonsensical cartoon white noise?
Since the dawn of time, the Minions have tried to seek out a worthy master to serve, but, as the ages of the world marched onward, the Minions found and lost each one. Driven into isolation, they built a kingdom dwelling in the Arctic, but soon grew lackadaisical and unable to satisfy their purpose in life (i.e. serving a master). Daring to change the status quo, three Minions (Kevin, Stuart, and Bob) decide to live their home and venture forth into the world to find their people the perfect “boss” to serve. Landing in New York City (circa 1968) and dealing with their new surroundings, the trio soon learns about Villain-Con, a supervillian convention held in Orlando, FL. At the convention, the Minions are introduced to Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), an evil female mastermind villain who plans on stealing the Queen of England’s crown. Taking aback by Scarlett’s villainy bravado, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob believe that they found their new master to serve, enlisting their henchmen help in the heist to gain Overkill’s acceptance of them.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I love animated movies, so naturally I loved the first Despicable Me movie. It was a well-rounded cartoon movie that had it all (action, comedy, drama, and heart) within a compelling 95 minute feature about a supervillian that’s learning to deal with his three recently adopted children. With Despicable Me 2, the story structure slightly changed, focusing less on Margo, Edith, and Agnes and shining the spotlight more on the Minions, who play more of a central part in the movie’s narrative. This sequel was good, but didn’t surpass the first installment. With the new Minions movie, this prequel sequel of an animated movie places the charming little henchmen in their own sole movie, which plays to the film’s greatest strength and its ultimate problematic weakness.
Minions is directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, both of whom have previously worked on Illumination Entertainment animated features like Despicable Me 1 and 2 and The Lorax. This is beneficial to the duo directors in crafting this particular spinoff movie, effectively using the animated studio’s style and comedy in setting up a roughly 90 minute Minions extravaganza. The Minions physical comedy, overall silliness, and gibberish pop culture reference was a fan-favorite delight in the previous two entries, but served more in the background to the main story of Gru. Minions switches that, charging at full-throttle with the non-stop comedy routines. Even sequences of action and danger are presented with slapstick humor. There’s also plenty of cartoon mayhem for youngsters to enjoy as well as hilarious gibberish lines that will surely become your kid’s new catchphrase saying. There are even a couple of jokes that might appeal to the adult crowd (rest assured that they aren’t to risqué and / or inappropriate for kids in the audience).
However, while the jokes and gags come thick and fast, Minions fails at capturing a compelling story. Screenwriter Brian Lynch, who helped write other films like Puss In Boots and Hop, creates a fantastic 30 minute opening, explaining the trials and tribulations of that Minions endure in finding a suitable master. After that, however, Lynch doesn’t rely too much a powerful narrative, focusing more on the movie’s comedy antics than writing a fleshed-out narrative. This result in the film’s weak plot, which is somewhat flimsy, and plays out like several dozen Looney Tunes cartoon skits than a feature length film. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is entertaining and has charm, but lacks heat and a strong story substance to sustain this animated tale from being truly great.
From a technical aspect, Minions looks great on-screen. Visually, the movie is alive, awashed with bright colors that will definitely capture anyone’s eye. Seeing the movie 3D heightens the experience with plenty of pop-out imagery and visuals to justify paying a little bit extra to view the movie in theaters. What’s also interesting is the Minions also utilizes its time period setting of the late 60’s with plethora of pop culture references from the particular period. Familiar songs from the Doors, the Kinks, and the Stones can be heard throughout the movie as well as iconic imagery like Nixon, the moon landing, and the Beatles walking across Abbey Road.
The three primary Minion characters in the movie (Kevin, Stuart, and Bob) are each given distinct personalities that work towards the film’s purpose. Kevin is the leader, Bob is the youngest, and Stuart is… an idiot (as the movie points out). Unfortunately, beyond the trio Minions, the other two main characters in the movie (who are human characters) are generally flat. Sandra Bullock lends her voice talents as the film’s antagonist Scarlett Overkill. She’s definitely evil as Bullock’s voice matches her character beautifully, but just simply lacks being memorable. The same can goes for Scarlett’s gadget making husband Herb Overkill, played by Mad Men star Jon Hamm. Hamm gets the voice down, but is not given that much screen time to make a lasting impression. In short, even for a cartoon, the Overkills are pretty forgetful with little characterization beyond their evildoers’ persona. The rest of Minions cast of characters play minor supporting roles. This includes Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, and Jennifer Saunders. Each actor or actress lends their vocals to the movie with brief moments to shine. Lastly, actor Geoffrey Rush also lends his voice to the Minions movie as the film’s narrator, chronicling the Minions’ throughout the history of the world.
The Despicable Me Minions are back in their own prequel spinoff movie. Yes, the Minions movie was hilarious with its constant slapstick comedy and nonsensical gibberish talk from its chief characters. Even the feature’s technical presentation (visuals, editing, and 60’s pop culture references) are pretty good / clever. Unfortunately, the movie’s main human characters are generally flat and the film just lacks a compelling story and heart. To me, it was an okay animated feature with a lot of laughs, but just didn’t resonate enough like the previous Despicable Me movies did. If you’re a fan of the Minions themselves, then this movie is perfect for you. It’s harmless kid friendly entertainment that will surely please young audience members (and some adults) with its zany and childish comedy antics from such endearing characters. In short, it’s a nice pit stop of a movie until Despicable Me 3 comes out in summer of 2017.