Minions (2015) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for action and rude humor
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast (voices): Sandra Bullock, Pierre Coffin, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush
Small role: Steve Carell, Laraine Newman, Tara Strong. Peter Serafinowicz, Kyle Balda
Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Screenplay: Brian Lynch
Review published June 29, 2015
Minions proves that a flavorful and well-used spice can turn a good meal to great, but that doesn't mean it would make for a good main course. The Minions of the title refer to the scene-stealing diminutive yellow henchmen who worked for Gru in the two Despicable Me films, adding a high degree of slapstick, revelry and mildly rude humor that the youngest of young viewers truly adore.
Minions is an origin story of sorts for these absurd little creatures, who, we come to find out, have evolved from Earth's prehistoric days for one unified purpose: to do the bidding of the most evil creature around, often times to the detriment of those they serve. After an brief opening segment detailing the Minions and their exploits throughout history, which includes dinosaurs, Ancient Egyptians, Napoleon, and, oddly, Dracula, we settle in to the year 1968, after the Minions have been exiled to the Arctic for about a couple of centuries (perhaps so they aren't shown serving Hitler and confusing our ability to find them loveable).
It is then that Kevin, the more elongated one, takes it upon himself, along with sidekicks Stuart and Bob, to get the Minions back to doing what they do best, opting to venture out to find someone nefarious enough for them all to blindly follow. While attending Villain-Con in Orlando, Florida, they discover a worthy globe-hopping villainess in Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock, The Heat), who adopts these new minions to help her snatch the St. Edward's Crown from Queen Elizabeth II, which, I guess, means she will take over the domain(?).
I'm not sure that wafer-thin characters like Minions need an origin story, but I do think that trying to define them only raises more questions. If they've evolved among with the rest of Earth's creatures from the beginning of life on Earth, how do they procreate? Is there even a female among them? Given how we're introduced to the main characters in other centuries, do they have a life-span at all, or are they immortal? And what to make of their language, which seems like a mix of English, French, Spanish and a smattering of other languages -- did they just come up with words independently of human culture? Honestly, I really don't care about the fact that they film doesn't answer these questions, but why even try to answer any at all, especially since it brings up so many of these others which are equally valid (or equally vapid).
If I'm being totally honest, while I won't deny that Minions is made by talented and very funny people, and the animation is inventive and fun when taken in small chunks, I found it a chore to stay focused on the frenetic goings-on of Minions. There's a lot of noise and energy, but there just isn't a remotely interesting story to wrap all of this abundant ingenuity around. The plot, what little there is, just can't sustain a full length feature, seemingly only existing to play around with the music, fashion and popular culture of the late 1960s, particularly in such things as the British Invasion and sundry other culturally relevant tropes. Scarlet Overkill isn't interesting in the least, merely there to shout and get angry at the minions because they keep fouling up her plans of world domination by trying to help. Unlike Gru, there's no nuance to her at all, merely another stock character about as thin and barely defined as the various Minions are themselves.
Minions is directed by Despicable Me's Pierre Coffin, along with Kyle Balda, working from a screenplay from Brian Lynch. What Minions is missing that Despicable Me has is the kind of heart and soul, as well as a modestly interesting story, to make it enjoyable on more than one level. Minions has only one mode, and that's to try to make you laugh, and like a clown at the circus, these cutely obnoxious creatures are a fun respite from the norm, but imagining a circus full of nothing but clowns seems like it wouldn't make for a very fun evening.
I can imagine that some viewers could possibly find Minions amusing enough early on to get into the right frame of mind to be giddy with laughter by the end. I definitely could see young tykes with nearly nonexistent attention spans getting a kick out of it for its rampant slapstick and sprinkles of mildly rude humor. However, I'm somewhat saddened to say, even if there is an occasional hiccup of inspiration that bubbles up to impress, Minions never quite settles into a groove of comedy for me, leaving it a very disjointed and ultimately unsatisfying experience, despite its undeniable inventiveness. Though my eyes never left the screen, I think I daydreamed through about 60% of it, which is probably the most apt review I can give to a movie that's about as colorful and nutritious as downing a bowl full of Skittles.
-- There are some additional scenes toward the beginning of the end credits, and a musical stinger after the credits.
©2015 Vince Leo