Sorry, Despicable Me fans.
Minions, the prequel/spin-off latest entry in the Despicable Me franchise from Universal, is the 3D CG-animated equivalent of an SNL bit dragged out to feature length in order to make a movie. While the writers and animators do deliver a chuckle here and there, the endless pratfalls and sight gags revolving around the sweet little yellow simpletons in the overalls grow tiresome very quickly, resulting in a family film that’s likely to miss the mark with family members of any age.
The premise, as you might imagine considering the film’s stars, is pretty simple. As audiences learn from narrator Geoffrey Rush, the tribe of Minions that will one day come to serve Felonious Gru (Steve Carell) have been around since the dinosaurs walked the earth, with one single biological impulse driving their existences: to gleefully (though hopelessly ineptly) serve the needs of the most impressive villain they can find. After serving numerous “bosses” through the centuries (and getting them all killed or maimed in the process), the poor tribe finds itself at the end of its rope, rapidly losing hope of ever finding a boss they can properly grovel before.
But, after the tribe has been in hiding for decades, one intrepid minion, Kevin, who just slightly cleverer than his brethren, takes it upon himself to venture out into the world to find them all a new boss, and in so doing a new home. He does not undertake the journey alone, however: his companions include the musically-inclined, one-eyed Stuart and the dim-witted but eager and well-meaning Bob (all three voiced by Pierre Coffin), both of whom really have no idea what they are undertaking or what it will entail.
The trio’s misadventures eventually lead them into the service of the world’s first female super-villain, Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), who thanks to the help of her fiendish and super-groovy inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm) has risen to heights of celebrity heretofore never before reached in the criminal underworld. They arrive just in time to help Scarlett pull off a heist she’s been planning since she was an abandoned, unloved little girl, the theft of one of England’s greatest national treasures, and if the minions can successfully steal that treasure for her, she promises them and their entire tribe anything they could ever desire. No problemo, Boss!
Of course, these are the Minions. You can imagine that things don’t go even remotely as planned.
Prior to this Minions film, the minions have been the stars of six separate animated shorts produced and released along with the home video releases of the first two Despicable Me films. If anything, the new longer film proves that the short film format really is ideal for minion-centric tales, as it keeps all the inane quasi-Spanish and Caribbean-fruit name inspired babbling and “whoops, he got knocked over again” gags from getting stale.
However, go to the babble-and-pratfall well over and over again over the course of 90 minutes, as the Minions movie does, and it’s quite likely even the kids will lose interest after a while. That just leaves all the sight gags thrown in for the grown-ups — minions dressed in caveman loin-cloths, vampire-inspired high collars, Napoleonic uniforms, and 60’s era tie-dye, and the many comedic set-ups built around things like pop culture conventions, department stores, and cultural touchstones in the UK — which are all cute, certainly, but very few of which are laugh out loud funny. Their lasting impact may just be a smile on your face when you see the Minions plush toy or action figure inspired by a gag in the film while walking through a gift shop at a Universal Studios attraction, or through the toy aisle while Christmas shopping later this year.
Thankfully, with Despicable Me 3 on the way, this very forgettable movie won’t be the last time audiences see the minions on the big screen, and thus be left with a less than banana-sweet taste in their mouths. With any luck, the folks behind this franchise will learn from the minions-like error they made here: that despite the fact that the minions might be the most marketable aspect of the Despicable Me series, they’re not what make the films successful. It’s the human characters — Gru, Agnes, Margo, Edith, even Russell Brand’s Dr. Nefario — who really make the stories resound and fill them with charm, heart, and humor beyond the “drop evil villain device, go boom” variety. Look forward to the continuation of their stories in 2017, and feel free to skip this pill-shaped bump in the road, unless you really want to know the stories behind all the new minions toys the kids will be wanting around the holidays. Then, by all means, beedo, and bringada papaya! Hahaha!
Starring the voices of Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, and Geoffrey Rush. Directed by Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda.
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rated PG for action and rude humor.