Voices of: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders, Steve Carell, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan
Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Rating: Two and a half stars
A prequel to Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, Minions chronicles the adventures of the yellow creatures that obey the dictates of Gru (Steve Carell). This prequel tells the circumstances of their origins.
As the hilarious prologue narrated by Geoffrey Rush helpfully informs us, the Minions are creatures who have existed since the dawn of time and thrive by doing the bidding of the most powerful. After spending a century in isolation the Minion known as Kevin (voiced by director Pierre Coffin, who also voices all the other Minions) sets out to find a new boss for them to follow. Accompanied by Stuart and Bob, Kevin arrives in New York in time for the Villain Convention. There the trio manages to attract the attention of Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) a fiendish villainess who wants the Minions to steal the crown jewels of England or face certain death.
Fans of Despicable Me movies will find much to like in Minions though the plot as a whole might strike them as a little repetitive. All the Despicable Me movies are delightful throwbacks to the more classic Looney Tunes cartoons. The whole comedy settles on villains who are self-conscious of their villainy and their failure as villains is not so far from Road Runner cartoons whose protagonist, the evil Wile E. Coyote had the anti-Midas touch of turning everything into dust. The same applies to the wannabe supervillains here whose pluck, resistance and sheer persistence makes them oddly endearing while Sandra Bullockâ€™s femme fatale spoof allows her to ham it up like no oneâ€™s business.
Though among the celebrity performers, I found Jon Hamm as Herb, Scarletâ€™s henchman scientist, to be more entertaining. Heâ€™s a walking clichĂ©s of â€™60s slang spoofs and seems to be having a genuinely good time. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney are far more anonymous though their cameos are hilarious. Jennifer Saunders steals all her scenes in her over-the-top portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. Famous for voicing the fairy godmother in Shrek 2, sheâ€™s brilliant and funny in spoofing the image of the prim and proper queen.
Minions is an unusual idea for an animated movie in that itâ€™s actually about cartoons. Most animated films such as the Disney Pixar stock and the Dreamworks animations (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda) are not really cartoons so much as anthropomorphised beings that are given life by voice and writing rather than their visual representation.
In the case of the three Minions, all of them speak in weird gibberish cobbled with words from Spanish, French and other languages. Their few lines in English are token and their characterisation is mostly thin and interchangeable. Pierre Coffin who voices the Minions, delicately varies Kevin, Bob and Stuart to make them differ from each other. To get a sense of their characters, you must notice their shapes, sizes and movements rather than wait for the dialogue to identify them. This makes Minions far closer to the spirit of the classic Looney Tunes shorts.
Most of the action is about the Minions working as a group. This is not a story about the lone Minion rebelling against his tribeâ€™s traditions, but the story of responsibility and commitment to your friends and colleagues. This makes it a nice contrast from other animated stories such as A Bugâ€™s Life or Ratatouille that is respectively about ants and rats wanting to be more like the humans. The Minions are content to be Minions but they want everyone to prosper and benefit. They are loyal to their bosses and are hurt when anything bad happens to them.
This commitment to the group paradoxically gives these cartoon characters an element of characterisation and individuality and it also leads to incidents where the Minions prove that they donâ€™t really need a boss and that they can even be heroes. This makes the film highly likeable and refreshing, it provides a valuable lesson without preaching and communicates much of its ideas and themes visually, and does so without losing its lightness of spirit, and even allows for a Minion speaking in gibberish to be highly resonant and emotive in many key scenes.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society...