Directed by: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Premise: A prequel to Despicable Me. Minions, the short yellow creatures who assist Gru in the other films, search for a supervillain to serve. In the late 1960s they come into the employ of Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock) who assigns them to steal the British crown.
What Works: Minions is a children’s movie, not a family movie, and the target audience of youngsters are going to be entertained by it. There are a lot of problems with this picture but the filmmakers acquit themselves well enough by keeping the film and its characters on the move. The film is comic set piece after set piece and Minions rarely slows down during its brief ninety-one minute running time. In the Despicable Me films the Minions have been mostly interchangeable as they fumble around Gru’s headquarters and they lacked any kind of distinct characteristics. For this backstory, the Minions drift from place to place before settling in a cave where they gradually lose their sense of purpose. In an effort to give their people hope and direction, three of the Minions band together in search of a new boss. Despite the fact that they don’t speak a coherent language, the three lead Minion characters have been designed and animated so that each emerges as distinct from the other two.
What Doesn’t: Neither of the previous Despicable Me movies were great although the first one was charming and inventive. Minions is arguably better than Despicable Me 2 which was a lazy retread of the first film, but like the previous installment Minions is a movie that was created solely for economic reasons. The movie exists because these little yellow characters have become a licensing and merchandising bonanza for Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures and Minions is intended to keep the property viable for tie-in products. That motivation is obvious throughout this movie. In 2010 the Despicable Me spin-off Minion Madness was issued directly to home video; that release consisted of three shorts starring these characters and several of the concepts and gags from those shorts are repeated in this feature film. The 2015 Minions movie is basically a series of shorts that have been mashed together and this film is barely coherent as a piece of storytelling. While the Minions are amusing in small doses the moviemakers run into problems when they try to inflate their adventures to a feature length. The Minions were never intended to be anything other than supporting characters that provided comic relief. This is the same problem Pixar encountered with Cars 2, in which the studio mistakenly framed the sequel around a popular but uncompelling and frequently obnoxious supporting character. Without the drama of Gru and his adopted daughters, Minions is just too light. The Minions are memorable creations and they’ve prove to be an effective trademark, but the actual joy of the first Despicable Me was due to its human characters. The trio of Minions in this film were clearly designed to mimic the three girls of Despicable Me but they aren’t characters and there is nothing about them that’s dramatically rewarding. The humor of Minions consists of a mix of slapstick and prop gags geared for children with the occasional mature reference thrown in for the benefit of the parents. The adult humor is never very funny. The jokes aimed at kids are going to make the young ones laugh but nothing in Minions has the energy or inventiveness that captured the audience’s imagination in the original Despicable Me. This is really apparent as Minions takes its characters and the audience into the supervillain subculture. Nothing interesting is done with it. All too often, Minions feels like halfhearted filler, a limp retread of the plot beats and character relationships of the first movie.
Bottom Line: Like a lot of children’s pictures, Minions is intended to keep the attention of viewers under the age of twelve and it will do that. But the film is little more than a feature length toy commercial that probably should have premiered on home video.
Episode: #551 (July 19, 2015)