Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Sandra Bullock, Pierre Coffin, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush
PG for action and rude humor
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Attempting to craft a story around a tribe of minor characters whose primary goals are to support their villainous master’s evil whims is a daunting task, one which seems to have found limited success in Minions.
In the original Despicable Me five years ago, our anti-hero Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) was one of the top villains in the world. With the support of his cute and bumbling sidekicks, the Minions, he helped stave off a challenge to his superiority. The minions got even more screen time in the 2013 sequel when they were turned against their creator as he tried to unravel a secret plan by a rival bad guy. Their supreme popularity lead to creators coming up with the idea to spin them off into their own movie, a prequel to boot.
Minions, an entirely unoriginal title, is the story of the Minions’ evolution from sea dwellers to henchmen across several millennia. Seemingly ageless, their inability to protect their masters led them to isolation in a frozen cave where decades of solitude have left them lonely and depressed. Appointing himself to lead a team into the world to find a new villain to support, Kevin selects Stuart and Bob to accompany him on a globe-trotting quest that leads them to the world’s foremost gathering of bad guys, Villain Con.
Latching into the egomaniac Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), they begin a quest to obtain the crown of the Queen of England, setting off a chain of events that leaves them ostracized and trying to save themselves and the world.
A combination of spy thriller and pratfalling farce, Minions doesn’t try very hard to impress its audience. At 91 minutes, the film seems surprisingly lugubrious, dragging from set-up to set-up with minimal effort. There are some astoundingly humorous segments in the film, but they are strung together by a plot that feels at once overly complicated for a kids’ film and pedantically simplified. These characters have developed a following of epic proportions and the film should strive for the same.
Faulting co-directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda would be unfair. What they accomplish with the film is perfectly workable. The rise and fall of action would fit perfectly within the framework of a live-action film. Unfortunately, their crafting an animated one, one which requires the audience pay unwavering attention to events on the screen. Part of that can be done through visual storytelling, elements which are present at regular intervals. The other is through capable storytelling that demands the audience keep focus. This is where the film falls apart.
As writer Brian Lynch displayed in his other spin-off contribution as story writer for Puss in Boots, nothing is gained by relying too heavily on the popularity of your characters. There, as here, the character was given a vehicle that seemed ideal, but ultimately felt like a second-rate retread of prior efforts. Gone from Puss in Boots were many of the fairy tale vestiges that made the originals so popular. In Minions, we haven’t been transported to an entirely new environment, but the familiar vestiges of the original film are absent.
In Despicable Me, audiences were pleasantly surprised by a story that relied less on a world of espionage and adventure to sell itself, but did so on the backs of a sweet, family-oriented story that saw a callous, uncaring supervillain soften in the face of new responsibilities and a home environment that altered everything he’d grown up expecting. Unfortunately, this was followed up with a film that seemed to put the generous aspects of family from the first film into the background, serving up an increasingly ludicrous story that focused too much on action. Even then, there were enough bursts of humor to satisfy the slightly underwhelmed viewer.
Now we have Minions, which has a core basis in the idea of family, but gives it as much attention as the second film did, capitulating to bored children by throwing in lots of whiz-bang action sequences that still popped up too infrequently. While it occasionally balances story and action, the humor is thrust in at random, ill-fitting moments or left aside in service to the plot. As another of this year’s animated features, Inside Out, proved, you can have a clever story with lots of action and still keep the rapid-fire humor zooming at the audience, give them a twinge of emotional satisfaction and do so without feeling like you’re dragging it along from one tired joke to another.
Minions may please the slavishly devoted fans of the yellow, pill-shaped henchmen, but for those who want a film that digs deep into its psyche and provides impetus for excitement and self-improvement, you won’t find that here. Like Planes was to the Cars franchise, Minions is to Despicable Me, a well-intentioned misfire that needed to be more over-stuffed with fun, excitement and emotion than it was.
Potentials: Animated Feature
July 14, 2015