Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
Directed by: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Starring: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan
Make no mistake; despite their status as underlings, the Minions are the stars of the Despicable Me franchise. With their hilarious helium-pitched voices, ludicrous lexicon and infectious ineptitude, the adorable assistants of ex-supervillain Gru have transcended the popularity of their film series. And the process of cementing their status as pop-culture icons has inevitably led to this stodgy solo spinoff.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, Minions makes the most of its newfound independence. An extended opening trails the titular tribe back to the dawn of time, and proceeds to track them through a series of side-splittingly superb skits that see them serve several rulers – from Egyptian Pharaohs to Napoleon himself.
The problem is that the Minions’ incompetence when trying to impress, accidently causes them to kill each new master they follow, and soon they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. All of which leads 3 brave Minion messengers, named Bob, Stuart and Kevin (voiced, as all the Minions are, with gusto by Pierre Coffin), to 60s New York City on a quest to find a new evil employer.Eventually, the yellow fellow’s journey leads them to the lair of supervillain Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock, one-note). And it is here, as the emphasis shifts away from the Minions and onto Overkill’s plans to steal the British Crown Jewels, that a plodding, petty plot punctures the promise of perfection put forth by the prologue.
Given the strength of its foundations, it’s deflating to discover just how disappointingly derivative Minions turns out to be at times. As Brian Lynch’s screenplay continues to progress, directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin become so focused on steering the story forward that they forget to have fun.
Many of the script’s strongest creative elements are soon sidelined. The use of a 60s time period is initially an inspired choice, leading to some of the film’s funniest flourishes; the sight of Bob joining a hippy march and holding a placard up that simply says “boo ya” is a particularly pleasing moment. And it’s impossible not to be momentarily swept-up by a soundtrack that includes hits by The Doors, The Kinks AND The Who. But Balda and Coffin struggle to sustain these enjoyable embellishments. Indeed, when the action relocates to “Mod” London, it is such a soulless setting that it could just as easily have been modern London.
Minions is at its best when it affords its central characters some freedom. There’s a gleeful giddiness to the sight of Bob, Kevin and Stuart running around Buckingham Palace willy-nilly, or playing Polo with Welsh Corgis, which effortlessly encapsulates the same slapstick spontaneity that was superbly demonstrated by Aardman in the Shaun the Sheep Movie earlier this year. But there are just not enough moments here to ever match that film’s quality. Despite some giggles, the third act largely consists of various trivial and testing set pieces that are admittedly enthusiastic, but ultimately exhausting. Needless to say, your kids are likely to love every minute of it.