“A wacky yet shallow origin film of a group of endearing yellow beings .”
After the smashing success of Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013), it is not a despicable truth that we have come to love villain-turned-hero Gru and his henchmen - the minions. But it is a big wonder where do his tiny charismatic minions come from. Cashing on in this bewilderment, directors Pierre Coffin and Kyla Balda brings us Minions, a prequel film on the origins of these yellow, spongy and squeaky loyal baddie followers in slick denim overalls and how they come under Gru’s wings.
Narrated by Geoffrey Rush, the film begins with how the minions come into existence. Like any other creatures, they originated from a tiny cell organism and evolved into Twinkie-like beings. Through all the different stages of evolution, it is very clear what is the purpose of their survival – that is to hook up with the baddest villain in that age. From the gigantic T-rex to an ancient caveman and to an evil pharaoh, they served their masters faithfully; yet, their clumsiness caused the fall of their masters. In his 357th birthday, they even turned great Count Dracula into ashes. The turning point was when they caused an ugly turn of events in Napoleon’s campaign. Banished to the frigid Antarctica, the minions built their own civilization for centuries. Yet, with no evil master to serve, their lives were aimless and sad.
At last, one of them steps up. Dragging along one-eyed music-lover Stuart and childlike Bob who is constantly in need of a pet or toy, Kevin leaves their frozen hideout and arrives in New York circa 1968. While frolicking around, the trio finds out about the upcoming Villain-Con, a gathering of the worst baddies in the world. Hitching a ride to Orlando, Florida with a family of robbers (Michael Keaton, Allison Janney), the minions attend the spectacular event.
The star of the event is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world’s first female supervillain whose weapon outfits are the shade of her favorite color which is not so obvious. With her genius pinstriped-suited husband Herb (Jon Hamm), Scarlet is looking for new henchmen. After a disastrous game, the minions emerge as the victors. As Scarlet’s new underlings, their first job is to steal the British Crown Jewels from Queen Elizabeth (Jennifer Saunders). However, the mission screws up and with Bob becoming the new king of England, our little friends are up for more trouble.
Minions is visually engaging. Aside from the flawless animation, there are plenty of history lessons. Since the movie is mainly set in that era, the 1960s British culture is dominant, evident with its bright and colourful texture, the landmarks, the attire, tea-drinking and the Beatles. A number of Beatles’ songs have been referenced in the film. The children may not be appreciative with this aspect but the stunning imagery will still draw them.
Minions also have so much energy. Sometimes, the jokes are not actually funny or are not making any sense, but the vibe is just too strong that we cannot resist laughing or even smiling. Wacky gags are also abundant and perhaps, the best among them is the bedtime story about the three little minion pigs. Aside from their yellow skin (or peel?) and their overalls trademark, the minions are well-loved because of their gibberish talks. For one and a half hour, our eardrums will explode with their seemingly endless banters in their indiscernible language which is some kind of a mix of Latin (mostly), Spanish, French, Italian perhaps, and possibly Martian. Despite not understanding them, it is quite fun listening to this gibberish. In fact, it’s infectious.
However, the film has plenty of flaws with its narrative. History lessons are quite unclear as events in the life of these minions are chronologically and geographically disjointed. How come are they well-travelled? How did they learn to read and write? How do they interpret maps? How can they understand English and yet can’t speak the language? How did they learn to use the phone? Why is their number so small when they have already existed in pre-historic times? Shouldn’t they have dominated the world by now?
Unlike Gru, Scarlet Overkill is also not an inspiring villain. Despite being mean and demanding, her character is bland and uninteresting. Her husband Herb is actually more appealing. It’s a cheering moment when, in his iconic turtleneck shirt and drainpipe pants, young Gru appears and unintentionally catches the attention of the minions. Having said that, the film’s predecessors have more heart and substance. While the older movies in the franchise succeed in being heart-warming and affecting, the present film simply banks on being cute and hilarious. In essence, the minions’ history, though seems rich, is shallow and probably shameful as they just go through a cycle of finding and sabotaging their masters. They never learned, they never really evolved. Until of course, Gru comes along….
It feels terrible not to love the minions. With their big bright eye(s) and glossy yellow skin in fitting overalls, they look sweet, cuddly and adorable. However, Minions fail to give them depth or warmth. By portraying their apparent folly and luckless loyalty, the film just pushes them into the sidetracks. Well, if you are simply up for a great laugh trip, the film will be serviceable. A friendly reminder though: You might find yourself learning, if not talking, gibberish after watching it.