Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda
Stars voices of: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush.
In the Despicable Me films, the minions were the cute, diminutive, yellow, denim-clad henchmen for the supervillain Gru (who was voiced by Steve Carell). They spoke in their own impenetrable and guttural language, and more often than not hindered Gru’s dastardly plans for world domination. But they effortlessly stole many scenes, and it was clear that these wonderful characters deserved their own spin off movie, similar to the penguins of Madagascar, whose scene stealing antics in the Madagascar trilogy ensured that they got their own feature film. But that film was something of a misfire because the producers didn’t seem to know what direction to take them in. The penguins worked best as secondary characters and comic relief.
Initial fears that the minions spin off would also be a bit of a mess are quickly allayed. Here, writer Brian Lynch (Hop, etc) and directors Pierre Coffin (the first two Despicable Me films) and Kyle Balda (an animator with Pixar, who made his feature directorial debut with The Lorax) have a clear vision for the characters. The film is a fast paced, very clever crowd pleaser with many laugh out loud moments. Minions appeals to both the young and the old, making it the best all round family friendly film for the holidays.
This delightful film serves as a prequel to the Despicable Me films, and gives us the backstory of the origins of the minions, who live only to serve their master as it gives meaning to their otherwise empty lives. An opening montage sequence, narrated in dignified tones by Geoffrey Rush, traces the minions back to the stone age when they tried to find the biggest and baddest villain to work for, through a succession of notorious characters like Napoleon and even Dracula, always with catastrophic consequences. Throughout their history the minions seem better at finding their masters than they are at keeping them as they always inadvertently bring about their downfall.
Fast forward to 1968. The minions are holed up in their remote cave somewhere in Antarctica, and waiting for their next evil master to lead them out of their depression. Kevin, the self-appointed leader, sets out on a quest to find the next super villain to serve. He is accompanied on this mission by the ukelele-strumming Stuart, the sort of rebellious teenage misfit, and the simple minded but over eager Bob who is easily distracted. The journey takes them to America, where they travel to Florida and International Villain Con, a sort of convention celebration for everything related to super villains. Which is where they discover Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock in a rare foray into vocal work), the biggest and meanest super villain on the planet, who is looking for some new henchmen. Scarlet’s initial entrance with her turbo charged dress is quite impressive.
Our heroes find themselves in Scarlet’s employ as she quickly heads off to London. She plans to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown and usurp the throne for herself. But with the minions as accomplices, things do not always go according to plan. Once the plot kick is, the film becomes another chase movie. And while it may seem a little formulaic, it is always energetic.
The animation is quite spectacular at times, and the humour is more visual. Minions is packed with plenty of visual humour, lots of slapstick, and bad puns. Younger children will thoroughly enjoy the physical comedy and the antics of the minions, while older audiences will get a kick out of recognising a number of pop cultural touchstones briefly referenced throughout the film’s brisk 91 minutes running time.
The film is set in 1968, and the producers have loaded the soundtrack with lots of memorable hit songs from the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and, of course, somewhat ironically, Donovan’s Mellow Yellow. And audiences should hang around for a great post credits sequence and a cast singalong as the minions cover a classic Beatles’ song in their own inimitable fashion.
Director Coffin provides the high pitched incomprehensible dialogue for the minions here. He has surrounded himself with a strong vocal cast that includes the aforementioned Bullock, who has a ball as the flashy and flamboyant Scarlett, and Rush, who brings gravitas and a touch of class to his narration duties. Jennifer Saunders provides the voice for Queen Elizabeth II; Mad Man‘s Jon Hamm voices Scarlet’s scientist husband Herb; Steve Coogan has a small role; and Michael Keaton and the always reliable Allison Janney provide the voices for the Newtons, a family who rob banks as they travel south towards Florida.
Minions is colourful, energetic, and a lot of fun, and is one of the best films on offer for the school holiday period! And the mischievous antics of the minions could easily lend itself to another sequel.