These three words may have been part of Nuprin’s marketing campaign in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but it might as well be rebranded to describe the yellow creatures that populated Despicable Me, its sequel and now their very own movie.
Looking like animated Twinkies in blue overalls, these little guys were the ones that nudged the supervillain turned super-softy Gru to the side and became the stars of Despicable Me 2. They were the comic relief that upstaged Steve Carell and his Slavic-sounding voice, and they did it by speaking gibberish.
The Despicable Me movies worked on different levels. Adults liked its cheekiness and Gru as the supervillain that lightens up to become an adoptive dad. Kids, on the other hand, were there to see Gru’s minions. You couldn’t escape them. The movie tie-ins were everywhere. Just as they are with the Minions movie. Flipping through an entertainment rag these yellow guys are hawking Mott’s applesauce (not bananas?) and Xfinity (when they aren’t working for Gru, they like to vege out and watch Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas, Mini-Me, and Chewbacca – they understand him!). They have licensing deals with McDonald’s – you may have heard the Happy Meal toy minion has a bit of a potty mouth. That’s okay, because there are limited edition minion Tic Tac mints to clean that right up.
The Minions’ infantile sense of humor has become such a hit with kids today. The Euro-gibberish that’s a combination of Spanish, Italian and a few other languages, children won’t be able to understand one-fourth of it, and they won’t care. The Minions promote an unprecedented level of silliness and awe shucks adorableness. So it’s understandable that their very own movie be aimed to audiences aged nine and below. The only mature aspects to be found in Minions are pop culture nods to the likes of Richard Nixon (a potential candidate for a new boss, perhaps?), TV shows like The Dating Game and Bewitched, and The Beatles.
Set before they encounter Gru and call him boss, this prequel is less about story and more about giving the Minions their own starring vehicle. The film opens with an extended prologue showing how the Minions have managed to exist since prehistoric times, working for the likes of a T. rex, an Egyptian pharaoh, and even Napoleon. It is never explained if the yellow guys age or of a singular sexuality (what if there was a girl Minion, like a Smurfette?). We flash forward to 1968 and our three star Minions – Kevin, Bob, and Stuart – make their way from New York to Orlando to attend Villain-Con where they hope to gain a new employer in the form of Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock), the gloriously evil villainess who is respected by wrongdoers all around the world. Once that task is achieved it’s off to London where she plans to steal the Crown Jewels. Scarlett wants the Minions to show their worth as underlings by having them pull off the caper with the help of some fantastical gadgets concocted by her husband, Herb (Jon Hamm).
This approach, instead of doing the heavy lifting herself, seems like the baddest of bad ideas.
And it is.
The bumbling caper goes wrong and sees Overkill turns a darker shade of scarlet in her displeasure of the outcome.
Minions offers laughs, but some of the gags are superficial. The prologue as narrated by the silvery-tongued Geoffrey Rush is glib but could have shown the Minions screwing up other moments in history. Perhaps make them the ones responsible for leaving a gate open and having the Ottoman Turks take over Constantinople and end the Roman Empire. That might be too much of a reach for kiddos who may only understand dinosaurs, Egyptian kings and see Napoleon Bonaparte as France’s version of Yosemite Sam.
The best asset isn’t the Minions being an impediment to Scarlett Overkill in getting what she wants, it’s the music. Whereas Despicable Me 2 had the chart-topping hit “Happy” from Pharrell Williams, Minions relies heavily on a catalog soundtrack, with a set list of artists that no one under ten will recognize. The soundtrack is heavy on “The”s. The Doors. The Who. The Beatles. So no new chart toppers to be heard, but if a few kids get a kick out of hearing Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” or The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” then best to get them some vinyl.
Sandra Bullock may be the big recognizable name of the vocal cast, as she sheds her do-gooder image to embrace the bad – something she hasn’t really done in a live-action movie. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney are a hoot as the patriarch and matriarch of a bank-robbing family who pick up Kevin, Bob and Stuart on their way to Villain-Con. But vocal all-star honors go to Jon Hamm who’s voice is indistinguishable. He drops the Don Draper act to be a holdover from the Beat Generation.
Pixar has a long history of tugging at heartstrings, but Illumination Entertainment’s Minions is all about tickling the funny bone. With silly antics that are sure to please children, the movie is fun, though these second banana characters show that they aren’t quite prime-time players. Best to have the Minions as comic relief instead of comics in need of help. Adults will enjoy the catalog music playlist and some monkeyshines, but like a box of Trix cereal, this one’s for kids.
Director: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Writer(s): Brian Lynch
Notable Cast: Sandra Bullock, Pierre Coffin, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush, Steve Coogan