The Despicable Me franchise might not have been perfect, but it did produce some animated icons in the bumbling Minions.
Sporting a simple n’ cute design and sputtering out adorable gibberish, the Minions were perfectly calculated to tickle children and sell them plush toys…and damn it they deserved the attention. So it should come as no surprise that the Minions now have their own movie. It should also come as no surprise that their spin off movie is charmingly mediocre. The most accurate pull quote for this one would be, “Meh, it’s fine.”
So seeing as how the Minions don’t really speak in any form of recognizable language, the movie kicks off with voiceover as the authoritative voice of Geoffrey Rush recounts the history of the species. Apparently the ageless, sexless creatures were formed to support ultimate figures of evil and did so throughout history from dinosaurs to cavemen to Dracula and eventually Napoleon before getting lost in the arctic for an untold number of years. Bored and depressed without a master to serve, three Minions head out on a journey to find their species a new evil boss. Thankfully, they do so in 1968 so that all sorts of classic rock songs can fill the soundtrack and other baby boomer favorites can cover the required pop culture joke quotient. Eventually the minions learn of a secret convention of villains to be headlined by the evil beehive hair sporting Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock). So they hook up with a nuclear family of bankrobbers (lead by Michael Keaton and Alison Janney in one of the movie’s funniest sequences) and drive across America to meet and hook up with Scarlett. That leads to a trip to England to steal the queen’s crown because why not? Don’t expect much plot people, this is pretty much a sketch comedy movie.
At it’s best, Minions is admittedly quite charming and funny. It’s not easy to do almost purely silent comedy, but when it works the results are admirably universal and about as pure as entertainment gets (think Mr. Bean or the wonderful Shaun The Sheep movie). There are times when Minions hits that mark beautifully and other times when the movie is just annoying. Essentially it’s got the hit-to-miss ratio of a decent Saturday Night Live episode, only aimed at kids. Clearly figuring out how to give these sidekick characters an entire feature length movie was no easy task, so what emerged was an episodic script compiled from all the best bits a team of writers could dream up (officially the script is credited only to Bryan Lynch, but the ramshackle structure and grab-bag joke writing makes it pretty clear that at least a few other punch up artists were involved if not several teams of them). In a way, the movie feels like two episodes of a proposed Minions Through Time TV series, followed by a two-part 60’s season finale. While it’s nice that all of the unnecessary family values moralizing of the Despicable Me movies no longer drags down the laugh rate, it’s clear that merely providing some sort of emotional content helped make them at least feel like actual movies rather than an overgrown series of shorts.
It’s easy to complain about Minions being completely empty fluff, but there’s no denying that there’s some fluffy fun within the emptiness. In particular, the Minions history lesson prologue works well as do the vocal performances of Michael Keaton’s hyper enthusiastic super-Dad with a shotgun and John Hamm’s hysterically prim sidekick to Bullock’s super villainess. When Minions hits it’s high notes, there are shades of the imaginatively anarchistic spirit of old Hollywood animators like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones. There’s a wild, surreal rambunctious, and even mildly edgy (for a kids movie anyways) sense of humor at the core of this thing that’s nice to see in mainstream Hollywood animation again since most CGI family features released these days are either Pixar or Shrek clones. Unfortunately in aiming for that style of comedy, the filmmakers pretty well guaranteed that Minions would be a mediocre endeavour. That style of surreal silly comedy is difficult to sustain at 90 minutes and exhaustion will set in for all but the most hyper-caffeinated and/or youngest viewers long before the credits roll on Minions. This would probably make for a fantastic Saturday morning cartoon series, but not a feature film. Unfortunately, feature films are where the money’s at, so we’re stuck with this. It’s painless animated entertainment sure, but nothing that will stick out in any one’s memory even a few minutes after pressing “eject” on your Blu-ray player.
As is always the way with a blockbuster CGI family feature, Minions looks like a million bucks on Blu-ray (or to be more accurate, a few hundred million bucks). The movie was of course designed on HD screens, so it only makes sense that the home presentation be pretty much perfect. The candy coloured aesthetic explodes off the screen in such vibrancy that 3D would almost feel redundant. The audio mix is equally hearty, spurting out goofy voices and explosive sound effects to a thunderous degree. If you want to wow a child who for some reason is obsessed with top tier home video presentation, this is a go-to disc.
The special feature section is unsurprisingly geared mostly towards extending the kiddie viewing experience. Three goofy short films show the Minions in other silly adventures like prehistoric babysitting, high-risk pacifier retrieval, and good old fashioned competition. The shorts are pretty simple, but play like old animated Warner Bros. shorts and that’s likely the best format for the minions. There are also four brief (i.e. less than five minute) interviews with writers, animators, and the Illumination Studio founder for those who care, a 30-second deleted scene, an interactive map (yay?), and a Minions Jingle Bells music video (sure, why not?).
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
The film is fun at times, mostly mediocre and the special features aren’t exactly weighty stuff for anyone interested in the making of the film (like Pixar Blu-rays often include), but should suit the pint-sized target audience just fine. This is a disc for kids after all and it will delight them for hours on end. No doubt about that.