Published on June 29th, 2015 | by Brad0
Minions – Review
It’s odd how ubiquitous the Minions have become over the last five years. Created as slapstick relief for 2010’s Despicable Me, their brand of gobbledegook nonsense and cartoonish violence has taken the world by storm – from everyday memes clogging up your news feed to t-shirts, children’s toys and now, inevitably, their own spin-off film, Minions. So can they hold their own film, or are they at their best in small doses; will stretching their shtick to feature length stretch the joke too thin?
The film makes a very strong opening. I’ve always enjoyed when films do a twist on the company logos at the start and Universal are particularly good sports for it (see Waterworld opening with the entire Earth underwater on their logo, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with the 8-bit version of the theme.) Here we have the Minions singing the Universal theme, which is very funny. The opening sequence of the film proper follows the Minions through time, from single-celled organisms to the form we know them to have. Their purpose throughout time is to follow and help the most despicable villain of the age. This leads to some laugh-out-loud sequences as their innate goofiness causes the downfall of a T-Rex, Caveman, Pharaoh, Vampire and eventually Napoleon Bonaparte, before the Minions enter a self-imposed exile in the Arctic. As well as being laugh out loud funny, there’s a certain degree of daring to opening a children’s movie with a scene depicting evolution through the ages. Can’t wait to see how that goes over when it opens in America in July! Also very telling is that the Minions go into exile after the Napoleonic wars and re-emerge in 1968, bypassing the most despicable villains of the early 20th Century!
Their exile robs the Minions of their purpose, and over the course of 150 years of musical numbers and winter sports they fall into a deep depression. This leads Kevin, our star and hero, to decide to leave their Arctic cave and go out in search of a new boss for them to serve. Along with teenage rock star wannabe Stuart and excitable child Bob, he strikes out into the world, winding up in New York City in 1968. One of the first things they see is a billboard for Richard Nixon, and I really wish that’s the direction they’d gone in for a bit – the Minions working for Nixon seems like a natural fit to me, and rife with comedic possibility. Sadly that’s bypassed, and they wind up hitchhiking to Orlando to attend Villain Con and find a Super Villain to serve.
Their road trip brings them into the company of the Nelson family, led by parents Madge (Allison Janney) and Walter (Michael Keaton). On first appearance the Nelsons appear to be your average family on a road trip, but they’re quickly revealed to be a crew of maniacal bank robbers. The Nelsons crop up throughout and are by far the funniest characters in the film. The human supporting characters upstaging the Minions is a recurring theme throughout Minions, which is almost a weird inversion of the original Despicable Me. In that film, the human characters are the heart and soul, with the Minions popping up periodically to do something hilarious; in Minions, the opposite is true, as it’s Kevin’s story we follow, with hilarious one-dimensional human cut-outs popping up to provide the belly laughs. So can a gibberish-speaking cartoon carry a feature?
Not really, no. Kevin’s story is vaguely involving, and the antics he, Stuart and Bob get up to are amusing enough. Co-director Pierre Coffin’s Minion voices and weird language are inherently amusing, and there’s a strong baseline of chuckles from the leads. But they feel like the antics of supporting characters – indeed, the periodic cuts to the rest of the tribe to see what they’re up to while all this is going on are much funnier than the antics of the central trio. The saving grace is the human cast. As well as the aforementioned Nelsons, we have the villain they want to work for, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock.) Scarlet’s from the “backwards and in heels” school of super-competent female equivalents, and her backstory allows for a little fun-poking at the classic Disney Princess arc. She never quite feels fully formed, though, and is more of a funny idea than a funny character. Her husband Herb (Jon Hamm), though, is a hoot. A new-age, hippy-dippy louche who makes all of his wife’s weaponry, Herb Overkill is like a Jeff Goldblum character from the late 80s/early 90s taken to the most cartoonish extreme possible. If it weren’t for the Nelsons, he’d steal the movie. Scarlet’s scheme is to overthrow Queen Elizabeth (Jennifer Saunders), portrayed as a drinker and fighter here to much more successful effect than the risible Royal Night Out. A recurring gag about British people drinking a lot of tea lands very well, too.
In all, Minions is a mixed bag of a film. It’s funny, for sure, but it feels like empty laughs. The great strength of Despicable Me was that it had a story with a real heart behind it and characters you cared about. The Minions were the slapstick icing on the cake. In Despicable Me 2 and Minions, the slapstick relief characters are brought to the forefront. And, while that makes for funnier films, the heart is a little lost in the shuffle. Minions is plenty enjoyable, and if you have younger children they will absolutely love it, but the series feels like it’s moving ever further away from what made the original so likable in the first place. Not that I won’t be back for Despicable Me 3, mind you. I think the Minions need to go back into the background, though. That or appear in some five-minute shorts.