Illumination Entertainment still hasn’t quite entered the arena of Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks Animation in the realm of high-profile animated movies, but if there’s one invention of theirs that’s taken the world by storm, it’s the Minions! Originally written to be silly gag characters in Illumination’s debut movie, 2010’s Despicable Me, the Minions have since exploded in popularity, not only granting them an extended role in the sequel, Despicable Me 2, but also saturating all sorts of marketplaces with Minions-branded products. Even Despicable Me protagonist, Gru isn’t so much as mentioned on most of the Minions merchandise either, which rivals Angry Birds in terms of proudly selling out to the extreme.
Still, it’s truly difficult not to love the little guys, and given their colossal popularity, it was inevitable that they would eventually get their own movie, particularly after the scads of short films made by Illumination that have the Minions as their subjects. Thus, we have Despicable Me prequel/spin-off combo, Minions, which fills in the title characters’ backstories in a full-length feature film, before they begin working for Gru. Without Gru in the picture however, is the joke strained? Can the Minions truly carry an entire movie by themselves?
Well, surprisingly, yes, as long as you’re not expecting something to rival the juggernauts at Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. Compared to last month’s release of Pixar’s Inside Out, Minions is dopey, childish junk food, though it does manage to be a cut above Dreamworks Animation’s rather unremarkable lone offering for this year, that being this past March’s Home. For kids and adults alike, Minions does manage to be funny and charming, even if it’s also pretty disposable and forgettable.
Still, if you enjoy the title characters, Minions should prove satisfying to you. It’s nothing to rival Gru’s mainline escapades, and in fact, this movie undeniably feels like it’s missing something without Steve Carell’s lovable anti-hero in the pilot seat, but as far as harmless, amusing entertainment goes, the Minions are worth hiring.
Without Gru to drive the movie forward this time, we instead have three Minion protagonists in Minions, that being leader figure, Kevin, careless number two man, Stuart, and charming little one, Bob. Bob is an all-new Minion invented for this movie, though Stuart has been featured in both Despicable Me movies, and Kevin appears in Despicable Me 2. There was a ‘Kevin’ Minion acknowledged in the original Despicable Me, though that seems to be a different Kevin, and a one-eyed version at that.
Regardless, the Minions are looking for a truly despicable boss to serve, and the movie details Kevin venturing out with Stuart and Bob to find a boss worthy of Minion service, which will save the Minion tribe from extinction. From this setup, I must say that the entire first act of the movie’s three-act structure is absolutely hilarious, and often consists of Minions’ best material. The Minions naturally don’t have much development, and remain largely one-note cartoon characters with only small quirks to separate each of the noteworthy ones, but this highly benefits the movie’s straightforward setup, when the Minions are simply allowed to do their thing, yielding great laughs in the process.
Unfortunately, after the plot gets going, the Minion characters are forced to play off of a less interesting supporting human cast. This is exacerbated by Minions having a pretty strong cast of actors behind it, but most of them barely get any screentime. For example, Steve Coogan voices a villain at the VillainCon convention that marks the introduction to the second act of the story, but he’s barely on screen for one whole minute before never appearing again. Likewise, Allison Janney and Michael Keaton voice the parents in a family of villains that show up briefly to provide transport for the Minions, but after this one sequence, they’re also mostly forgotten.
The human characters that get the most screentime are Sandra Bullock’s lead villain, Scarlet Overkill, whom the Minions try and work for initially, and Scarlet’s husband, Herb Overkill, voiced by Jon Hamm. Both Bullock and Hamm deliver highly entertaining voiceover performances, though the writing sometimes lets them down. Herb is somewhat meant to be in the background, but even Scarlet isn’t given all that much to define her beyond being a villain, and being obsessed with the Queen of England’s crown. Considering the immense buildup that the movie throws behind Scarlet, it’s disappointing that she feels like she leaves no impression by the end, especially when Gru has done such a great job at making a supposed ‘bad guy’ character into an interesting lead in the Despicable Me movies.
It would be fair to say that there isn’t really much in the way of depth when it comes to Minions’ personalities, but that’s likely to be expected, given that you’re making a movie about a bunch of tiny yellow creatures that speak in a combination of garbled language blends and gibberish. What counts is that everyone is at least likable, even if no one beyond the Minions themselves feels all that memorable.
Minions’ entire storyline could be summed up as the Minions looking for something to do, circa 1968. It’s about as far as a story could be stretched about characters that have largely been gag fodder and short film subjects.
To that end, Minions sometimes feels like a collection of gags that are strung together on a thin, mostly inconsequential premise. Like I said, the movie is most effective when the Minions are simply allowed to be themselves and cause mischief, and any attempt to push the story beyond that feels like a waste of time and energy.
Minions does try to make itself about more than Minion-related silliness, granted, but the wonky story creates a bizarre, off-kilter sense of pacing, making it feel like the story is an inconvenience, not the backbone it’s supposed to be. There is a clear three-act structure, but the way that the movie fumbles around feels kind of chaotic in its execution, and this may be why the movie’s story is completely disposable. After all, we’re not looking for a story. We’re looking for lots of Minion gags.
To its credit, Minions at least pulls that off, even if it just barely stretches itself across a feature-length runtime, feeling like it gradually runs out of gas as it goes on. By the end, the movie is still charming, but much of the best comedy gets expended early on. There are some clever period gags that older adults will find amusing, even if many of them will probably go over kids’ heads, but even the humour occasionally feels rickety, in the sense that it ranges between childish gags for kindergarteners, or referential gags for older parents and grandparents, without much of a middle ground.
This results in a plot that at least works to a point, considering it’s an entire feature film about Minions that could have easily strained the joke, and doesn’t, but the story of Minions nonetheless feels more serviceable than truly remarkable.
Minions is co-directed by Kyle Balda, who helmed a good chunk of the Minions short films that preceded this feature film, and Pierre Coffin, who not only co-directed both Despicable Me movies, but also provides voiceovers for literally every Minion. This is quite noteworthy here, since it means that Coffin is ultimately recording more voiceover work than any other actor hired for the movie.
These co-directors probably make more sense than anyone else, and they definitely do a strong job at maintaining the Minions’ charm without straining it. Balda and Coffin sometimes have a hard time balancing whether they’re trying to appeal to kids or adults, seeming to only go for one or the other at any given time, but they do effectively realize a lot of the manic cartoon humour very well, giving Minions lots of energy, and at least making it very easy to watch for any audience.
Since the title characters can’t be easily understood, Balda and Coffin rely largely on visual humour to carry the movie, which is a smart decision. Despite that however, they do make the Minions just understandable enough, without spelling out their dialogue, thanks to the visual storytelling and sharp animated expressions of the characters. You may not understand the Minions’ speech, but it’s easy to tell what they’re thinking at any given moment, and that’s why the story can still be moved forward, even with the protagonists mostly speaking gibberish.
Even with the wonky pacing, Minions is well-directed, and definitely makes the most of giving its title characters their own feature film.
Minions features a soundtrack that largely consists of 1960’s classic rock, but that fits, given not only the period, but also the light-hearted and mischievous tendencies of the title characters. The fact that the soundtrack is rooted in classic hits also means that it doesn’t feel dated, in the way that using a modern pop soundtrack in an animated movie like this would. It’s a good blend of crowd-pleasing sensibilities and a way to complement the antics of the Minions, while also not feeling anachronistic for discerning older viewers, considering that this movie takes place long before its primary child audience would have been born.
As for the audio, it’s pretty fluffy and cartoon-ish, largely playing up the sense of humour over any real sense of destructive credibility. A lot of the scenery gets torn apart as the Minions and the other characters make their marks on the various animated set pieces, but always in the sense that it’s good fun, not anything that will scare young children. Even when the Minions’ lives are threatened, there’s a sense of cartoon whimsy about the whole affair that makes everything feel like a game, which kids should feel right at home with, even if adults won’t find a whole lot of stakes in the adventure.
Illumination Entertainment may not have the storytelling pedigree of Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks Animation, but they do certainly know how to animate well. This remains true in Minions, which is gorgeously realized, right down to the incredible amounts of detail in the period environments. Things like water effects look incredible in the movie, rippling and animating very realistically, despite the simple design of the human character models, and of course, the Minions themselves.
As I said, the visual direction in Minions is excellent, and compensates for the lesser bearing on actual dialogue in the storytelling. This is an exceptional use of film as a visual storytelling medium, particularly for an animated film, and it feels like the script is barely necessary to get a handle on things, even for little kids. You could take away the dialogue completely, and still follow events perfectly, thanks to a lot of well-placed visual cues and subtle sight gags, and that’s the sign of a movie that is very proficient at showing, not telling.
As with the main Despicable Me movies, Minions is also best watched in 3D as well, where the lively animation and well-realized visual beats feel a lot more engaging and fun than they would if you just watch the movie flat in 2D. In fact, since my pre-screening was strangely a 2D screening (hence why this review is a bit late), and no early 3D screening was offered in my area, I tried an experiment where I observed the audience in a commercial 2D screening after the movie’s proper release, then went to a commercial 3D screening to see if there was a difference in audience reactions to the same jokes. As I suspected, the audience in the 3D version of Minions was much livelier and more engaged in the movie, laughing harder at the jokes, and reacting more dynamically to what was on screen. This is the kind of movie that’s enhanced greatly by 3D, and that really is the best way to watch it, particularly given the emphasis on the visuals to tell the story.
I will say that the 3D is not quite as universally potent as it was in the main Despicable Me movies, but it’s still very well done here. The 3D is pretty understated when looking at the general scenery, but when the visuals amp up for jokes, the 3D is used to excellent effect. The action scenes have projectiles and streams shooting right in audiences’ faces, and the moments of Minion-fueled energy result in a lot of popping imagery that really does help to make the movie funnier.
That’s not to say that the animation in the 2D cut is bad, if 3D isn’t an option for you, but if you do have the means to see the 3D cut of Minions, that’s the one I recommend. Even just in 2D however, Illumination’s penchant for sharp CG animation is upheld here, with the period setting really leaping to life and feeling strangely real, which only makes the exaggerated antics of the Minions that much more enjoyable.
Minions is a movie that’s explicitly made for people who really love its title characters, but it’s not like those people are in short supply. Given that Minions has predictably become a box office monster, even managing to break opening weekend records for the animated film genre, it’s proof that there is indeed a lot of love for these little guys, with Minions perhaps even giving the main Despicable Me movies a run for their box office money.
But how good is it exactly? Well, Minions is solid, though I will admit that it’s not quite as good as the two Despicable Me movies that have released so far. It’s kind of disposable, but it is funny and likable, and it does successfully grant the lovable Minions their own respectable feature film. It’s too bad that the especially unmemorable human characters can’t keep pace with the yellow critters, but if it’s lots of Minions that you want in a Minions-dedicated movie, you will most definitely get that.
So, whether you’re a little kid or a well-aged adult, if you so much as cracked a smile at the Minions during the Despicable Me movies, then you’ll find something to like in Minions. It’s simply a whole lot of colourful silliness, but as far as fluffy Summer movie fun goes, Minions certainly fits the bill as a crowd-pleaser. I recommend Inside Out much more highly, since it’s all-around a far superior and more ambitious animated movie, but if you’ve already seen that, then Minions makes for a satisfactory animated movie dessert.
It’s hard not to miss Gru as we’re getting our biggest dose of Minion Mania yet, but fortunately, Despicable Me 3 is on the docket for 2017. There may not be as much heart as the Despicable Me movies behind the rather devil-may-care Minions, but if you’re wisely not looking to take this movie seriously, the title characters will at least give you a reliable 91 minutes of smiles.
- Minions are fun and likable, as always
- Sharp visual direction that compensates for the gibberish Minion talk
- Voiceover performances are entertaining, while they last
- Too many actors are under-used
- Story is forgettable and not all that ambitious
- Pacing is very bizarre and off-kilter