The little yellow minions of the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise have been popping up everywhere lately, on every inch of street advertising available, in commercials for everything, in the shape of all sorts of candy- I wouldn’t blame anybody for being a bit sick of them by now. In fact, I’m pretty sure there must be an anti-minions backlash happening somewhere at this very moment, and I even think I saw a Twitter account called IHateMinions.
I’m not one of those haters, though. I love the minions. I thought they were the spice of the first ‘Despicable Me’ film, and pretty much the only redeeming feature of the second one. The minions are a very inspired gimmick: their character design is simple and memorable, they talk in an adorable Esperanto-like mix of various languages and gibberish, and they’re prone to the kind of cartoon jokes that, unlike pop culture references, never go out of fashion and appeal to all ages: slapstick and silliness. So with that in mind, I was looking forward to the Minions movie (cautiousness about the diminishing returns of sequels notwithstanding). Sure, animated films that go for your heart are fine and all, but sometimes you just want to have a bit of mindless (and heartless) fun.
The first 30 minutes or so of the feature film dedicated solely to this army of evil yellow underlings are quite hilarious. In the style of a nature documentary, serious British narrator and all, we are taken through the history of the Minion species from the dawn of planet Earth until the 1960’s- always jolly, always incompetent, always searching for the biggest, baddest villain to serve, including celebrities like Dracula and Napoleon, who apparently all owe their demise to the minions (where where they when Ceausescu was around?). Eventually, though, they find themselves master-less for a while, and must embark on a quest to find a new boss. It’s too bad that the film’s trailer spoiled this portion of the film- the best portion of the film!- pretty much entirely. Yes, it was a great trailer, and it made me want to see the movie, but once you’re at the cinema you realise there isn’t much else there.
After the trailer material is exhausted, the film goes on to follow a fairly blah story about working for a villainess named Scarlett Overkill (voiced with appropriate overkill by Sandra Bullock), whose lifelong desire is to be the Queen of Britain. This British plot is an excuse for some mild jokes about tea and English politeness, and also for the utter destruction of CGI-London in several set pieces, all of which was, I assume, quite amusing for the largely French production team of the Minions movie. I must admit I failed to care about Scarlett as a character, though. She’s not particularly interesting, or fun, or threatening, really- mostly I just wished there had been less of her and her even more obnoxious husband (voiced by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm). Besides, ‘Despicable Me’ is about Gru, so it doesn’t make sense to give so much attention to another villain in the ‘Minions’ movie. I would’ve preferred to see them dispatching various historical and fictional villains throughout the whole film.
The story, then, isn’t much, and towards the end it really overstays its welcome, but I’m still a big fan of the franchise’s visual aesthetic- very stylized, exaggerated and cartoony, and somewhat different from what other big studios are doing with CGI. The filmmakers seem to be having fun with the medium- Scarlett Overkill gets a black-and-white noir introduction, for example, and then narrates her evil plan to the Minions in a fairytale sequence with a stop-motion feel. The sixties soundtrack is also a welcome variation from the horde of contemporary pop songs that appear in other animated features (I’m looking at you, Dreamworks).
In the end, the ‘Minions’ movie is not the movie the Minions need, nor is it the movie the Minions deserve, but it’s still fairly enjoyable.