Rated PG for action and rude humor.
Running time: 91 minutes.
Two stars out of four.
We are a Minion-friendly household around here.
My 5-year-old son, Nicolas, loves the Minions so much, he thinks he actually IS one. We’ve been on the “Despicable Me” ride at Universal Studios more times than I can count. (It is kind of a blast, though.) We have Minion stuffed toys, Minion books, the “Minion Rush” iPad game, even Minion apple sauce (which tastes like tropical ba-na-nas).
So I was all in for “Minions,” a prequel to the “Despicable Me” movies, which explains the origins of these impish, yellow creatures and follows their quest to find the most evil villain to serve. It’s a clever idea, but it can only go so far before running out of steam. These guys are as silly and playful and hilariously inept as ever, but there’s not much to them. Fittingly, because they’re pill-shaped, the Minions work best in small doses.
The three goggle-eyed guys at the center of “Minions” — Kevin, Stuart and Bob — have distinct personalities, but there’s no “there” there to build an entire film around. And the super villain they work for this time doesn’t have the strength of character or the complexity of Steve Carell’s vaguely Eastern European baddie-turned-daddy, Gru.
I realize these are all the observations of a film critic, and a grown-ass person. Young kids, who truly are the target audience, won’t notice or care about any of this. They will laugh their heads off. Nicolas was cackling so hard, the veins in his neck were popping out. (His favorite part was when the three are stranded at sea and Stuart tries to eat Kevin in a hallucinatory fit of hunger.)
But first, we must go back to the dawn of time and the birth of the Minions. As Geoffrey Rush explains in a lengthy and amusing opening narration, the Minions have long sought to do the bidding of the baddest person they can find — although their earliest boss was a T. rex. Then there was a caveman, and Dracula, and Napoleon, but invariably, these crazy creatures screwed something up and had to move on. After decades of self-imposed exile in an ice cave — and the depression that resulted from a loss of purpose — one enterprising Minion, the tall and responsible Kevin, takes it upon himself to venture out and find a new big boss for the tribe to serve.
His traveling companions are the suave, ukelele-playing Stuart and the innocent, big-hearted Bob. Co-director Pierre Coffin voices all of these characters, as always, with a gibberishy mish-mosh of French, Spanish and who-knows-what. Words like “banana,” “papaya” and “pinata” appear frequently in their vocabulary, but I’ve gotta say, I understood a lot of what they were talking about.
After traveling over land and sea, they wind up in 1968 New York, and then in Orlando, Florida, for the annual Villain Con gathering of evildoers. (“Minions” just happens to be hitting theaters the same weekend Comic-Con is going on in San Diego. Coincidence?) There, they connect with the world’s first female super villain, the coifed and polished Scarlet Overkill, voiced with perky menace by Sandra Bullock. She’s entertaining at first, but eventually reveals herself to be shrill, one-note and off-putting as she unleashes her devious plan to steal Queen Elizabeth II’s crown and take over England. (Jon Hamm provides the voice of her mod husband and henchman, Herb Overkill.)
Journeying across the Atlantic leads to a bunch of really easy jokes about British culture, but also an impressive soundtrack of great ’60s hits by The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and more. (The makers of “Minions” spent an insane amount of money on music including, of course, Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow.”)
Kevin, Stuart and Bob bumble and stumble their way through it all in their usual slapsticky fashion. But in retrospect, I can’t really recall a single joke or sight gag or action sequence that stands out above all the rest. Coffin and co-director Kyle Balda’s film, written by Brian Lynch, just kind of chugs along until it reaches its explosive conclusion, and then it ends. It’s cute. It’s OK. But it’s never great.
Your kids will probably love it, though. And you’ll wish you were watching “Inside Out” for the second time instead.