MINIONS Movie Review – They’re Back, We’re (All) Doomed
It was inevitable. As inevitable as another summer overflowing with sequels, remakes, and reboots. The Minions, miniature, banana-obsessed, self-aware Twinkies, the same Minions who played key supporting roles in Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 as periodic purveyors of slapstick humor, would get their own standalone film. Now, here we are, facing the inevitable. Preteens predisposed to slapstick humor (i.e., all of them) will be extremely pleased with the eponymous result, but a semi-clever script, focused oddly enough on ‘60s-oriented pop-culture and humor will have parents and, more likely, grandparents saddled with daycare duties, intermittently amused, engaged, and on occasion, even entertained, during the Minions’ semi-bloated, 104-minute running time. Semi-clever script aside, however, the Minions should remain secondary, supporting characters, not leads in subsequent standalone sequels.
For an animated film aimed, at least in part, at children, Minions takes a long, convoluted, ultimately nonsensical path toward explaining the Minions’ origins. To wit (or not to wit), the Minions didn’t so much evolve with the times, but remained fixed in their servile natures, hopping from alpha or apex predator to another, almost always interfering unintentionally in said alpha or apex predator’s untimely demise. (We get all this and more, much more, via a Geoffrey Rush-provided voiceover and an epoch-spanning montage.) By the time Napoleon enters and exits the world stage, the Minions have retreated to an icy cave, their home for the next 150 years or so. How the Minions procreate (they’re gendered male, but have no genitalia), what they eat (beyond the occasional banana), or why they don’t seem to age, aren’t questions co-directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin or screenwriter Brian Lynch want asked, let alone answered in any meaningful. Not, of course, that most preteens will ask those questions, but their slightly bored older siblings and older relatives might.
What we do know about the Minions is relatively simple: They’re perpetually childlike in demeanor, they speak a nonsense, gibberish language occasionally sprinkled with recognizable words, and they live to serve (and vice versa), specifically (super) villains. When three of the Minions more adventurous members, Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin), emerge from their icy cave in 1968, a year of tremendous cultural, social, and political upheaval, they head for first New York City and later, once they learn about a super-secret super-villain convention in sunny Florida, to Orlando with the help of a wannabe super-villain family. There they meet and fall under the sway of Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), and her hipper-than-thou inventor husband, Herb (Jon Hamm). Through a bit of luck (and screenwriter intervention), they become Scarlett’s designated henchmen. Almost immediately, she tasks them with stealing the Crown Jewels, as in Queen Elizabeth’s (Jennifer Saunders) crown (Scarlett desperately wants to become queen).
Satisfyingly enough, Minions segues into a heist yarn, with Stuart, Kevin, and Bob stumbling and bumbling their way to achieving their immediate and eventual goals. Balda and Coffin keep the colors vibrant, the production retro-futuristic (especially Scarlett Overkill’s flying vehicle, her not-so-secret lair, and Herb’s weapons of minor destruction), and the gags of the physical variety, albeit sprinkled with the obligatory dollops of pop-culture humor (again, mostly of the ‘60s variety). Alas, Minions lacks the simple, straightforward story, let alone the emotion center or core, of the Despicable Me films, specifically the relationship between Gru (Steve Carell) and his adopted daughters. They soften his supervillain ways (because family and whatnot). Stuart, Kevin, and Bob start as family (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and remain family throughout their mini-trials and mini-tribulations. Not that the absence of anything except superficial emotion or shallow poignancy will matter to the Minions’ target demo. It won’t.