Minions delivers just enough of what people love about the eponymous Despicable Me characters to please their fanbase - but not much else.
Minions reveals that the eponymous Despicable Me henchmen have always existed to serve the most nasty master they can find (starting from when they were just single-celled organisms), but that the Minions also have a habit of inadvertenly killing their bosses. Eventually, the Minions wind up outcast and isolated in Antarctica, leaving them depressed and without a purpose in their lives.
One day, Minion Kevin decides to change that and sets out to find his kind a new master, with help from his fellow Minions, Stuart and Bob. The trio make their way to 1960s New York, before learning of Villain-Con: an annual, Orlando-based, convention for supervillains. There, the three Minions discover a potential boss in the infamous Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) - but is she really the evil-doer they've been searching for?
Directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, Minions is a quasi-prequel to the previous installments in the Despicable Me movie franchise, but largely plays out as a standalone spinoff featuring the (extremely popular) titular characters. Both Balda and Coffin are well-versed in the Illumination Entertainment approach to animation storytelling by now, having previously co-directed The Lorax and Despicable Me 1 & 2, respectively. Hence, the pair deliver exactly what you would expect from a film solely dedicated to Minion antics - which is both the movie's greatest strength and weakness.
The Minions' Looney Tune-esque shenanigans were a fan-favorite element of the previous Despicable Me films, where their brand of physical comedy and pop culture riffs were used as decorations for a more substantial plot revolving around their master, Gru. However, in the Minions film, there is no such narrative raft keeping the Minion jokes afloat, and the story crafted by screenwriter Brian Lynch (Hop, Puss in Boots) is too haphazard to make up the difference. The film plays out as a collection of Minion cartoon skits (some of which are better than others), held together by a flimsy narrative through line. As for substance: there are some satirical jabs here and there (at things like geek convention culture, politics, and so forth), but there's not a whole lot going on below the surface with this one.
Captivating storytelling is not the point of Minions, of course, and the film does make good on its promise to deliver virtually non-stop Minion comedy - sight gags, slapstick action sequences, and so forth. The Minions' misdeeds have long had appeal for both older and younger moviegoers alike; that remains true here, as the film serves up plenty of cartoon mayhem for youngsters to enjoy, as well as jokes that are just risqué enough to appeal to adults (without being too inappropriate for the juice box crowd at the same time).
Balda and Coffin and their team of animators put together a number of visually creative comedic set pieces over the course of Minions, so as to not have to rely entirely on the Minions' charms to carry the movie alone. There are a handful of sequences in the film that are inventively staged (changing up the usual computer-animated aesthetic for the style of 2D animation and even stop-motion, in one scene), but for the most part the animation quality here is unremarkable. Certain pop-out visuals and images will make Minions worth the higher price of admission for a 3D screening to some filmgoers, but there's not enough of that (nor much in the way of vibrant colors or immersive scenery) to make 3D viewing a necessity, in this case.
The three main Minion characters here - Kevin, Bob, and Stuart - are only given enough personality to not be completely interchangeable, and that works for the movie's purposes. Unfortunately, the human supervillain Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and husband Herb (Jon Hamm) aren't good replacements for Gru and his daughters from Despicable Me 1 & 2; the Overkills are passable, but forgettable, as far as crackpot evil-doers (with a hidden neurotic side) tend to go. The voice work by Bullock and Hamm is sufficient, but far from memorable and not enough to make up for the Overkills' flat characterizations.
Fortunately, the Minions supporting voice cast does solid work here, with actors such as Michael Keaton (Birdman), Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Steve Coogan (Philomena), and Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) lending their vocals to a variety of eccentric criminal and law-abiding players that show up briefly - and leave before wearing out their welcome. Similarly, Minions avoids over-using the joke of having Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) serve as the refined narrator, who chronicles the Minions' struggles throughout history and time.
Minions' overall lacks the heart and inventiveness of the Despicable Me films, instead going for broke on Minion-driven gags and comedy set pieces/sequences (note: Minion fans should sit through the credits, for even more of that). However, there's enough in the way of irreverent silliness and wackiness thrown at the wall here to sustain the movie's brisk running time, if only just so. At the end of the day, though, Minions delivers just enough of what people love about the eponymous Despicable Me characters to please their fanbase - but not much else.
In other words, it might be best if the Minions get a little less screen time when they return in Despicable Me 3.
Minions is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 91 minutes long and is Rated PG for action and rude humor.
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