As a full-grown adult I have no problem admitting that I have a massive soft spot for animated movies. I love them. I love how they can be so expressive and lively and fun, yet still tackle tough subjects and provide emotionally wrenching moments. The best of them are family films rather than children’s films, meaning they can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike due to the skilled writing managing to blend pure humour and visual spectacle with deeper meaning and clever, layered jokes. So when it was announced that the little yellow Minions from both Despicable Me movies were going to get their own spin-off film, how could I possibly resist checking it out? So with my niece in tow for her first ever trip to a cinema I headed into a whole new adventure. A yellow adventure full of stupid antics and an entirely new language that should replace English as the de facto language of the world. So what’s my thoughts?
The Minions suffer from Jack Sparrow syndrome. That’s my thoughts. Allow me to explain; the first Pirates of the Caribbean was a great adventure that featured Johnny Depp as the superb captain Jack Sparrow, a secondary character who was there to support the two leads, and in that role he excelled. At almost any given moment he could provide comic relief, help out or be a foil for the heroes. He could be used to inject some much-needed comedy during dark moments, or amplify the drama. Noting the popularity of Jack Sparrow the higher-ups pushed him more in the sequels, letting him become a primary character alongside Elizabeth and Will Turner, before becoming the lead in the fourth movie. It didn’t work. Jack Sparrow is awesome, but he only really works when he can be bounced off of other people, acting as a hinderance or a help as the plot needs. Likewise as brilliant as the Minions are they struggle a little to support a movie on their own. The Minions need direction. They need to support the story, not be the stars of it. Still, they manage to pull it off. Just.
As it turns out Minions have been on Earth for a very, very long time, at least since the time of dinosaurs. And it’s quite telling of the type of mind that I have that all I can think about is how? are they immortal? Because there doesn’t seem to be any female Minions, and while some of them do act like little kids there doesn’t actually seem to be any actual kids. So what’s the deal? Anyway, these little yellow weirdos have a simple purpose; find the biggest, baddest villain they can to serve. Things don’t exactly go well, though, as the rather inept Minions manage to dispatch several would-be villains by complete accident, and eventually they find themselves a massive cave in some snow-covered area and proceed to wait around. They develop a little civilisation all of their own, but nothing can really replace the simple joys of serving pure evil, and thus one brave Minion by the name of Kevin decides to set off in search of a new master. Joining him are the intrepid crew of Bob, the absurdly innocent and cute one, and Stuart, whose defining feature seems to be a love of guitars.
Owing to the Minion’s inability to talk the story is kept simple; the little group manages to eventually make it to Villain-Con, an entire convention dedicated to the baddest of the badasses, and there they discover that the biggest bad around is Scarlet Overkill, who wears a seriously awesome dress that turns into a rocket and is voiced by Sandra Bullock who seems a touch of her depth here. From their stupidity ensues as the small group try to prove their worth by stealing the Crown Jewels at the behest of Scarlet who wants to rule England, and eventually the world. Being Minions, though, their ineptitude gets the best of them.
And do you know what? It’s fun. Unlike the very best kid’s movies there’s nothing very clever here in terms of the humour or the underlying theme, but it’s got some nice slapstick comedy that managed to keep both me and my niece pretty entertained for the whole thing. I only laughed out loud once at a joke involving a snow globe and a guitar, but for the rest of the time there was a smile on my face. It’s pretty damn hard not to like a group of three small, baffled yellow things that are so not evil in any sense of the word, except for their capacity to steal stuff, but even then they do it with a charming innocence. Being set in 60’s England the movie manages to hit every single English cliché in the book, including lots of tea drinking, politeness and some nice jabs at the Queen. Hell, it even manages to wedge the Beatles in there, too, for good measure. Indeed, it delves so heavily into stereotyping the English that if it was an ethnic minority instead of the English somebody would be screaming racism, not that I’m personally complaining since it’s funny, but that’s some massive rant against mis-use of racism, stereotyping and more that doesn’t belong here. Back on topic, though, the film is at least consistently amusing, with a breakneck pace that keeps the slapstick flowing without any breaks for anything else, again going back to the fact that there’s no deeper meanings here or even moments where the film slows down to deliver more emotional moments, which I assume is also a direct result of the Minion’s lack of typical speech. The downside, though, is that as characters the three Minions don’t get to have much personality of their own.
The quality of the animation is unsurprisingly lovely across the board. I say unsurprisingly because aside from small-budget outings animated movies from large studios are almost universally beautiful. The movement of Scarlet Overkill’s husband Herb is the standout for me, capturing and exaggerating the stereotypical idea of the swinging 70’s in a way that actually reminds me of Austin Powers, only far more fluid and without all the talk of shagging. In fact Herb proves to be a highlight of the movie, providing some great comedic moments. Given the focus on slapstick humor the animation really did need to be of a high quality, and I’m happy to report that The Minions is a lovely looking movie with some nicely designed visuals.
You’ll see almost every moment of the slapstick comedy coming, though. This is a formulaic movie that seems pretty content to tick most of the standard kid’s movie boxes. It doesn’t help that the writers seem conflicted about whether they can trust the audience to figure out what’s going on. Through the expressive medium of animation and the strangely hypnotic gibberish of the Minions it’s actually pretty easy to figure out what they’re trying to say, even really young children grasping it quickly. It’s actually impressive just how easily you can understand the little yellow guys, and the movie is at its best when it trusts the audience to do just that. But it often doesn’t, throwing in exposition from other places where none is needed. Take the opening scene; it’s wonderfully narrated in a very enjoyable way, telling who the Minions are and what they want. But there comes a time when the narration isn’t needed, and it just keeps going.
Weirdly, although it’s so clearly a kid’s movie rather than a family one, there’s a few snippets of purely adult humour that feel out of place. Take the image above with the Minion trying to chat up the fire-hydrant; it carries on into a scene with a Minion and two fire-hydrants in a hot-tub. The kids in the audience laughed because it was silly, and the adults sort of sniggered, but weakly. Thankfully the more adult or teenage orientated suff is kept to a minimum because what is there, feels off.
I think the biggest flaw, though, is that the Minions work better when there are hundreds of them bumbling around, bashing into each other, arguing and generally failing to get anything done. The studio clearly focused on just three so as to give the audience characters to connect with, keeping the rest of the Minion horde for brief comedic asides that intersperses Bob, Kevin and Stuart’s story, but going back and watching the Despicable Me movies it’s incredibly clear that they a) are inherently supporting characters that work best in sharp, relatively short scenes that provide slapstick comedy during otherwise slower moments, and b) work best when there’s a lot of them running around, preferably with somebody giving them orders and somehow remembering all their names because he’s a damn fine employer. Yup, as expected the movie does attempt to explain how the Minions met Gru, and it’s kind of cool, at least until you realise that it completely contradicts when the Despicable Me movies said, namely that Gru created the Minions, rather than them crawling out of the ocean fully formed as this movie would have us believe. Bit a of a plot hole there, albeit one that kids aren’t going to give a flying rat’s arse about.
I’m being somewhat harsh, though. I mean, as we’ve already covered it wasn’t like I had a bad time watching the movie. It’s completely inoffensive, really. But in some ways that’s worse, because both great movies and terrible ones inspire some form of passion, but inoffensive, okay ones inspire nothing. You kind of enjoy the experience and then promptly forget about it about five minutes after watching it. It’s been a week since I saw The Minions, and I can remember bits of it, but that’s it. The Minions has laughs, but completely predictable ones. It’s not despicable, is what I’m saying. Did you see what I did there? No? It was funny. It was. Shut up.
Overall it’s a solid movie. Make of that what you will, but for me while I enjoyed The Minions I’m in no rush to watch it again, and will probably wait for a significant price drop before picking it up on Blu-ray, if I do at all. If I had to choose then I’d say that the Despicable Me flicks are certainly better films and the Minions themselves are handled better in them than they are here. The Despicable Me movies have more heart, the second one is just as funny as this, too, and adults can enjoy them, too, at least to a degree. Still, undoubtedly this movie will make a small fortune, as will the terrifying array of merchandise haunting store shelves with its yellowishness, and young children will enjoy it. If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that Despicable Me 3 needs to make sure it doesn’t fall afoul of Jack Sparrow syndrome and lean on the Minions too much.