With the voices of Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush. Written by Brian Lynch. Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin. Rated PG for action and rude humor. 91 minutes.
It would be nice to report that MINIONS is a masterpiece. It isn’t. What it is, however, is a whole lot of silly fun. As with “Penguins of Madagascar,” it attempts to take the hilarious sidekicks from an animated series and put them center stage. What you get is similar to if you made a dish with your favorite seasonings and left out the entree. You enjoy the taste but after a while you notice something is missing.
The Minions, of course, are the yellow, pill-shaped creatures who serve mad scientist Gru in the “Despicable Me” films. Here we go back to the dawn of time to see the early minions seeking out some powerful figure to serve and going through various mishaps. Finally three of them arrive in the modern world of 1968–carefully selected for a reason that soon becomes apparent–and find themselves heading to Orlando for a villains convention. That’s a cute little joke right there, because it’s prior to the creation of the Florida theme parks, and so it’s still a provincial backwater.
At the convention they meet Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock), who takes on Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (gibberish voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) for her most nefarious plot yet: stealing the crown of the Queen of England (voice of Jennifer Saunders). To spend much more time on the plot would be missing the point. We don’t care as much about the story as about the Minions themselves.
There’s plenty of slapstick tomfoolery that will appeal to all ages, but there’s also the opportunity to burst into their unique renditions of familiar music including “Make ’em Laugh” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and a post-credits production of the Beatles’ “Revolution.” Other artists of the era – including the Rolling Stones, Donovan, and the Who–turn up on the soundtrack. Then there’s their gibberish, which is given enough context–and occasional borrowing from other languages including a heartfelt Hebrew “mazel tov”–to be understood.
It’s a fast-paced 91 minutes that will not leave you longing for “Minions, Part II” but glad that you sat through this one. Sometimes there’s a reason a beloved sidekick should remain in a supporting role. In small doses we treasure their every appearance. In a feature-length film where the sidekick is the star, we begin to notice there’s not quite enough depth there to carry the film. Imagine a movie about Elmer Fudd or a “Toy Story” spinoff about Mr. Potato Head or a “Snow White” sequel about Grumpy. Such characters are the seasoning, not the main course.
That said, it still has to be noted that “Minions” is enjoyable and funny and a perfect way to beat the heat. Sometimes that’s enough. Indeed, sometimes that’s more than enough.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.