By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The world of Earth is still without heroes in Minions. Just where they are to defeat the bad guys does not need to be asked, and nor are they required when these funny yellow critters (all of them voiced by Pierre Coffin) finally get their own movie. After tiny appearances of their hijinks in the Despicable Me movies, the producers from Illumination Entertainment thankfully took five years to get a product out to feature them as bumbling heroes whereas DreamWork’s The Penguins of Madagascar, their rivals, took ten.
These cute little yellow, capsule shaped, creatures are on a quest to serve the most vile villain they can find. The only problem they have is their ineptitude to help them rise to power. Just what happens to these ruthless tyrants under their Igor like care is hilarious and the voice-over narrative Geoffrey Rush provides is touching. Sadly, the best moments are given away in the trailers.
In the history lesson that’s provided, it’s merely a sampling of the rulers they met over the millennia. To see how these Minions served other past dictators like Caligula, Genghis Kahn, Blackbeard or Stalin would have added more flavour instead of reiterating what the teasers have shown. At least one ruler is missed: in the Middle Ages, perhaps King Edward I of England got the brutal end of a blade and that was not included in the film. This exclusive moment in the trailer suggests a longer cut was animated but in what’s pared down for the film, nothing new is added.
From their rise from early primordial Earth to meeting Napoleon, these poor guys have had a tough life. After nearly killing this French despot, the French army chased them far away. Presumably, they went to the Alps, but in a later part of the film, it’s suggested they were forced to hide in Antarctica. Centuries have passed before one particular Minion, Kevin, decides that now is the best time to go back into the world and find a purpose again. The ukulele playing Stuart and the teddy bear hugging Bob join him. Geography logistics aside, these three land in 1960’s Manhattan and have a misadventure before discovering that there is an underground league of gangsters. Out of convenience and need to recruit lackies, they hold an annual Villain Con. At this event, just who the Minions find reveals that there’s only a handful of real ‘monsters.’
Most of these criminals are of the calibre of being evil geniuses and tacticians. An appearance from Dracula and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are about the only extent of telling how many metahumans exist. While the question of who saves the world from these villains lingers in the backs of some viewers’ minds, the narrative flows in the same direction with the Despicable Me films. The bad guys and their little servants can do good too. Kevin’s goal is to save his tribe from mediocrity. They need a leader to guide them if they are to survive.
Kevin, Stuart and Bob win the heart of Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) at this convention. She’s proven to the world that she cannot be beat and there’s more world treasures to steal. Just why she is not directly involved in stealing the Crown of Queen Elizabeth needs to be questioned a little. Other than no accountability, why worry? There’s no superhero or spy to thwart her efforts. She gets the Minion trio to steal the treasure and they bungle the mission much in the same way Inspector Clouseau does from the Pink Panther movies.
The humour does not always hit the same levels as with either that film series or in their madcap moments in the Despicable movies. There are a few moments that shine, like the merry chase sequence through London, but there are lulls in the zaniness which could be better. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that other screenwriters are involved in tailoring this film’s story. Maybe writer Brian Lynch was told by the executive producers to tone any ideas of absurdist humour down so the movie is more accessible towards its intended audience of young children. When there’s not enough innuendo and parody to complement the slapstick, a balance needs to be struck to please older viewers.
There’s a few in-jokes that mostly adults will get — like the Minions finding Abbey Road — and it’s those moments that do a better job at earning the chuckles. The music from the 60’s like “Hair” and “Revolution” helps give this film a definite flavour to enjoy a la Austin Powers. It’s really these moments that help make this movie shine.
Some viewers might even notice a recent trend that’s hitting a few franchise products lately. Hopefully more prequels will emerge to provide “meat” to relationships (Insidious‘ third film is an example) just to provide substance to the supporting characters. Yes, Gru makes an appearance and what’s saved for last during and after the end credits is best remembered. The Minions movie makes for a good entry point to this Despicable Me universe. It only makes the original films look spectacular when just how much the Minions love Gru is revealed. When this title arrives on video shelves November 2015, there’s no doubt that revising this world will ensue. Interestingly, this series is not at an end. Despicable Me 3 is slated for a 2017 release.
3 Stars out of 5