To be frank, I’ve never understood the appeal of the Minions. To me, they’re like that episode of Friends where Joey tries to learn French. Despite Phoebe’s best efforts, every time he opens his mouth all that comes out is gibberish with a freeeeeeeench accent. It’s one silly joke that’s funny the first time, and then is repeated ad nauseam. Which is to say, my expectations were very low for Minions. But hey, it surpassed those!
Minions serves as a prequel for Despicable Me. It’s the Minions pre-Gru, like way pre-Gru. It begins at the start of life on Earth with the Minions as crudely sketched one-celled organisms. From there, they evolve always trailing the biggest, baddest beast around. It’s clever. They’re presented as endlessly seeking a symbiotic relationship that will assure their survival. But forced upon this setup is the villain narrative, even though a T-rex isn’t a villain, just a predator. But sure, the Minions are evil despite never seeming to be without prompting.
Nonetheless, we leap from the existence of dinosaurs to the existence of man, along the way establishing that Minions—in spite of their earnestness—aren’t really paying off on their side of symbiosis, leading to many deaths of their would-be masters. After failing Napoleon, they are chased into an icy cave that becomes their haven for centuries. But without a villain to help, they become listless. So Kevin, Bob, and Stuart set off at the height of the swinging 1960s to save their tribe by finding them a new evil guru. And so they’ll meet Scarlett Overkill.
This is just the first ten minutes of the film. But it’s the best, most interesting section. As the Minions speak only a mix of nonsense and Spanish, it could have been a sequence done essentially without dialogue. But Illumination Entertainment is not as daring as Pixar was with Wall-E; so instead Geoffrey Rush gives a March of the Penguins narration to the whole of this introduction. It’s fine, but makes the same mistake most of the movie does: assuming that its audience is stupid.
Yeah, Minions is a movie for kids. And judging from the crowd I saw the film with, kids will enjoy it. However, kids do get visual storytelling. They amuse themselves with picture books long before they can read. But don’t worry, Illumination thinks you adults are idiots too, pandering to you with cheap nostalgia through its ’60s soundtrack and wedged in references to the Beatles and Andy Warhol. But when Minions isn’t slathering itself in easy jokes, it’s actually pretty fun.
Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm have a quirky chemistry as married super villains Scarlett and Herb Overkill. Her frantic energy channels into an increasingly harried, and delightfully feminine super villain, whose dresses pack more weapons than Iron Man’s suit. The animators have a lot of fun with her dangerous couture, and so will you. There’s also a brief appearance by a wacky family that boasts voice work by some of my personal favorites, Michael Keaton and Allison Janney. Jennifer Saunders pops in to lend her voice to a playful take on Queen Elizabeth II. And the B-plot, which follows those Minions left behind as they struggle through their ennui, is surprisingly funny. There’s just something about maudlin Minions attempting apathetic cheer squad routines.
And to the film’s credit, Kevin, Stuart and Bob are defined as individuals. The first a noble caretaker. The second a wannabe rock star and aspiring ladies’ man. The third a cuddly animal lover. Their chemistry is charismatic, though their arc is as nonsensical as 90% of their language. See, Scarlett Overkill soon goes from their would-be savior to their would-be executioner. Yet they still want to serve villains. They learn nothing. But don’t think too much about that. This movie is studded with plot holes it’d rather you ignore. It’s just not trying too hard. But hey, you want Minions? You got Minions. They’re cute and silly, and not much else.