REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
Minions are little yellow creatures with high pitched voices, which are totally unintelligible. They seem altogether adorable.
In the “Despicable Me” series, the minions were lackeys to Gru, the super-villain voiced by Steve Carell. The gibberish-spouting simpletons proved irresistible to young tykes. Hence, they have now been spun off as the co-protagonists of their own eponymous vehicle, “Minions.”
The film’s introductory narration by Geoffrey Rush explains that these unicellular organisms have existed since the dawn of time. Although seemingly innocuous, they demonstrate a penchant for subordinating themselves to such dastardly villains as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Count Dracula.
Through sheer ineptitude, the minions inadvertently cause the demise of the bosses, who they aspire to serve. When their giant Jurassic master is precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff, a minion tips it over the precipice into a fiery volcano. Subsequently, a minion pulls the curtain back during daytime, exposing their blood sucking vampire master to sunlight. You know what happens next.
As depicted here, the minions also served in the Grand Armée of Napoleon Bonaparte. Were the minions really responsible for his historic defeat at the Battle of Waterloo? Here, Napoleon is iconified as a megalomaniacal malefactor. The film studiously ignores more modern despots, such as Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot.
This film is a prequel, which antedates the minions teaming up with Gru. At the outset of the film three of the minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin, the film’s co-director and creator of the diminutive characters) set off to Villaincon, a gathering of all the world’s self-styled meanies. There, they hope to ferret out a new fiend, who they can attach themselves to.
Keep your eyes peeled for a younger version of Gru, who is in attendance at Villaincon. However, he does not yet hook up with the minions at that juncture. Instead, the trio of minions are recruited by Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world’s first female super-villain. Along with her husband, Herb (John Hamm from “Mad Men”), she plans to take over the world. That’s a modest little aspiration.
Scarlet covets the crown of St. Edward, the regal symbol of authority, worn by ruler of the British Empire. If she can only acquire the crown, then Scarlet will supplant Queen Elizabeth as regent. Scarlet assigns the minions to steal the crown from the Tower of London. Will these bumbling nincompoops succeed in their task? If they do, what will be the consequences?
The vocal cast also includes Allison Janney, Michael Keaton and Steve Coogan. The film gets less mileage out of these three than might have been expected. The same is true of John Hamm, who represents another surprising waste of talent by the filmmakers.
The film is set back in the ‘60s. Hence, the soundtrack features some vintage tunes, “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan, “I’m a Man” by the Spencer Davis Trio, “My Generation: by The Who, and “Revolution” written by Lennon-McCartney, but performed by the Minions themselves. These are all fine, upbeat compositions. They might pander to a sense of nostalgia of baby boomers. However, they seem somewhat odd as choices for a film that targets audience members who were born decades after these songs were popular. This demographic will have no sense that these compositions are designed to set a sense of time and place.
Although “Minions” is an American made film, somewhat curiously, it has already had its debut abroad. In 44 overseas markets, it has been a huge hit. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia, it became the highest grossing animated film in the history of those countries. Step aside “Frozen.” This should presage the wild success of “Minions” in the United States.
The film boasts a promising prologue. It concludes with an engaging finale and post-credits sequence, which feature Gru back in his earlier days. Unfortunately, between these framing aspects, the film lags, beset with a litany of gratuitous characters and plot devices.
Despite these drawbacks, young kids will love “Minions” and vouchsafe its triumph at the box office.
**1/2 PG (for action and rude humor) 91 minutes. Universal Pictures
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.