THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Despicable Me earned $251 million at the U.S. box office and Despicable Me 2 made $368 million. Both were blockbusters, thanks in no small part to the Minions, those little yellow scene-stealers who have become a certifiable pop culture phenomenon. They were perfect sidekicks for central character Gru – cute, funny, and always into mischief. Their popularity became sufficiently high to afford them their own spinoff movie, appropriately titled Minions. The question is, can they sustain their own feature-length film? The answer is yes.
The movie begins with a short history of the creatures, who spend centuries looking for the perfect villain to team up with. Unable to do so, the group grows depressed. Three of them – Kevin, Bob, and Stuart (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) – are sent to traverse the world in search of new opportunities. They first end up in New York City during the 1960s, but then learn of a supervillain convention in Florida. The trio makes its way there, quickly finding employment with Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the most notoriously evil villain around. She and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) have plans to steal the Queen of England's crown. The Minions accidentally foil the plan in their effort to help her achieve it, and Scarlett vows to get revenge for this perceived betrayal.
The plot of Minions is extremely thin. Moreover, it doesn't allow for much substance. Despicable Me resonated because it was about a bad guy whose cold heart melted when he adopted three little girls. The sequel did so because it dealt with Gru getting used to being a father, while still trying to maintain some semblance of his self-identity. Unlike Gru, the Minions have no place to go as characters. They're fundamentally designed to be simplistic, and are therefore exactly the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning. Since Scarlett Overkill is the antagonist, she too has to remain the same – evil – throughout the movie. There is no arc for anybody, which ensures Minions is stuck playing the same note from start to finish.
Thankfully, it's not such a bad note. The Minions have struck a chord because they're cute and funny. They talk weird gibberish, eat bananas, and aren't entirely bright, which causes them to get into comical predicaments. While Minions is lacking in storytelling depth, the movie at least puts its characters in situations that are funny. One of them tries to get amorous with a yellow fire hydrant. They humorously slip out of scary-looking torture devices that Herb attempts to entrap them in. The grand finale is something of a Minion-themed homage to Godzilla movies. Things of this nature are all over the film. Writer Brian Lynch has fun coming up with kooky scenarios for them to inhabit. There are a couple duds, but most succeed in doing exactly what they were intended to do, i.e. provide a healthy dose of Minion mayhem.
Innocence is also a big part of their appeal. The Minions work for villains, yet they themselves are not villainous at all. The little yellow guys are naïve, drawn toward evil for reasons even they don't understand. There's an inherently smart quality to that idea; Minions celebrate evil despite being completely incapable of perpetuating it. In fact, they often cause the exact opposite effect. For as lightweight as the plot is, Minions at least makes the most of this notion. Kevin, Bob, and Stuart try to help Scarlett carry out her mean-spirited plan, only to inadvertently thwart her time and again.
Minions is pretty much exactly what one would expect from a Despicable Me spinoff starring these characters. It's brightly colored, inordinately silly, kind of charming, and yes, a bit one-note. By no means does it even begin to rival the best animated films of our time. Still, you know what you're getting, and if that's what you want, here it is.
( out of four)
Minions is rated PG for action and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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