When the first Despicable Me was unleashed upon the world in 2010, the chaotic little yellow minions became an instant success with audiences. It became hard to ignore them as they took over advertisements, trailers and pretty much ousted Steve Carrel’s Gru as the main draw to the movie. By the time Despicable Me 2 arrived, they were the unquestioned linchpin of the franchise. Of course, it stands to reason that these little guys would get their very own movie, which brings us to today as Minions is now a reality.
The film opens up at the dawn of time as we are taken through the Minions’ entire history as they embark on multiple failed attempts to serve the most vile and despicable villain around. Unfortunately, every master they serve dies because of their screw-ups in ways that are pretty gruesome for a kid movie. After they inadvertently kill Napoleon, the Minions run off to isolate themselves in Antarctica. Without a master to serve, the Minions begin to fall into a deep depression, forcing three brave Minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, to embark on a quest to find the most villainous boss that walks the earth. This quest leads them to Orlando, Florida, home of Villain Con, a global gathering of villains and criminals, where the three Minions meet Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the answer to their search. In order to serve Scarlett full-time, Kevin Stuart and Bob must first steal the crown of the Queen of England.
Minions harkens back to those old Looney Tune cartoons, where characters get crushed by falling boulders, drop off cliffs and cause all sorts of mayhem without any consequence. We live in a golden age of animation, where animated films like Frozen, Toy Story and, most recently, Inside Out are able to tell a complex and moving story via the animated form. But sometimes, you just want to see crazy cartoons go nuts out on screen, and Minions delivers on that in spades. All the physical comedy works, and the film does come up with some pretty creative scenarios to put the Minions in. The entire scene taking place at Villain Con was one of the film’s highlights; I only wish they would have spent more time there instead of focusing so heavily on Bullock’s Scarlet Overkill.
As much as I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, the first thought that crossed my mind when I heard they were getting their own film was: How can they possibly make them consistently funny for 90+ minutes? The answer, sadly, is that they don’t. The blame for this can be placed on many things, not the least of which is the trailer, which pretty much showed us most of the funnier bits in the film. In fact, the whole first 10 minutes of the film is made up of the jokes seen in the trailer. I have come to a point where I wonder whether I should blame trailers for ruining the best parts of movies, or blame myself for watching them in the first place. Either way, the promotional material for Minions did the film a disservice.
Another reason for the shortage of laughs is that the decision to focus on three primary Minions was a mistake. I understand that, on a story level, you can’t have hundreds of primary characters on screen at once; you need to identify and characterize individuals in order to relate to them. But there really is only so much you can do to humanize a nonsense speaking humanoid. It’s not that Stuart, Kevin and Bob aren’t funny, they are, but they’re only funny for the first 10 minutes we see them. After that, we get to know them as characters, and their individual comedic aspects begin to get tired. The Minions are much funnier as a group, and the film offers us only occasional glimpses of the entire pack, and it’s those glimpses that are the funnier portions of the movie. Part of the charm of the Minions in the Despicable Me movies is that they are just a big swarm of chaos creating creatures, with nothing but generic names to differentiate them. By focusing only on three particular Minions, I feel like the films significantly reduced the scope of anarchy the film could have had.
Though Minions does have a pretty impressive voice cast including Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton and Allison Janney, they are barely heard in the film. The primary human figure in the film is, of course, Scarlet Overkill, who is exactly the kind of villain we have seen in hundreds of animated films in the past. The only actual voice actor who seems to be really having fun is Hamm, playing Scarlet’s gadget building husband, Herb. It amazes me that a guy like Hamm has such a great comedic presence (even just his voice) considering his grave and serious role as Don Draper on Mad Men. But it’s Pierre Coffin, the film’s director and the voice of the Minions, who is the unquestioned lead voice actor here. What works about the Minions is that, even though we can’t understand what they are saying, just hearing the gibberish they speak is hilarious, especially when combined with their ridiculous actions.
When it comes down to it, you either find the Minions funny and adorable, or you think they are annoying. Unfortunately, even if you fall in the former category, Minions doesn’t quite give you exactly what you want. Most of the big laughs have already been shown in the trailers, the plot is nothing but an excuse for visual gags and all the human characters only distract from the little yellow stars. This movie is the ultimate proof that some things are better in small doses, including the Minions. The film does offer many chuckle worthy moments, and the cute factor is present throughout. The animation is colorful and vibrant, the film keeps up a fast pace and also does a great job of expanding the Despicable Me universe. I just can’t help but wonder if this film gave us everything the Minions have to offer, leaving nothing new left for Despicable Me 3.
Final Grade: 6/10