Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: "Minions"

I don't think there was a soul alive who watched the original "Despicable Me" and didn't think to themselves, "Man, they should give those goofy little yellow sidekicks their own movie."

So now they have, and "Minions" is exactly what it's cracked up to be: 91 minutes of CGI slapstack, sufferable cuteness and incomprehensible minion-babble. Though it might try the patience of parents here and there, it's colorful, fast-paced and amusing. It's got the formula for keeping kiddies entertained on a hot summer day down pat: three parts cartoonish violence, one part gratuitous adorableness, one and a half parts making fun of grownups, and a scoop of gastrointestinal humor.

Frankly, if your little kid isn't left giddy by this flick, you might want to keep an eye on him.

This is essentially the minions' origin story, aka the tale of their life pre-Gru, the nefarious, redeemable villain with the long schnoz and inexplicable Slavic accent voiced by Steve Carell in the "Despicable" movies. We learn that they are not, in fact, the laboratory concoction of a mad scientist, Gru or otherwise, but a natural life form that evolved long before man and whose entire evolutionary purpose is to find the biggest villain available and serve him/her/it.

A witty opening credit scroll shows them evolving from single cells to amoebas to sea critters and so forth, always latching on to something bigger and toothier to fawn over. Alas, their bumbling assistance tends to lead to the demise of whatever "big boss" they're currently serving, a fate that eventually leads them to a long, lonely existence languishing in a frozen cave.

Eventually, hero-myth candidate Kevin resolves to go out in the world and seek a new villain. He's joined by Bob, a young minion -- he still carries a teddy bear -- with more determination than skills, and Stuart, the resident guitar player and cool dude.

The running joke with the minions is that they're virtual carbon copies of each, with a pill-shaped yellow body, no detectible noses, ears or reproductive organs, a scattering of coarse black hair and one or more googly, goggled eyes. There's not a huge range in personality or intelligence, either, though they seem to have no trouble telling each other apart.

Anyway, the trio make their way to Orlando, Fla., for Villain-Con, an annual gathering of baddies, and encounter Scarlet Overkill, the greatest of them all, and become her henchmen on a trial basis. They're assigned to steal the crown of Queen Elizabeth, and various hijinks ensue.

I should mention this takes place in 1968 London, so everything's very Mod with tight pants, period rock music and an Austin Powers vibe.

Co-director Pierre Coffin helmed the "Despicable" films with Chris Renaud, who opted to go his own way with the forthcoming "The Secret Lives of Pets." Here Coffin is joined by apprentice Kyle Balda, with a screenplay by Brian Lynch.

Coffin also provides all the chirpy voices for the minions, with the help of some intricate sound mixing. As you'll recall they speak in their own distinctive, nonsensical language with a smattering of recognizable words in English, Spanish and French. This results in one scene where Bob, having been temporarily granted an auspicious perch, delivers a rousing speech to a huge crowd of Brits, who are completely bewildered, but pleased.

The rest of the voice cast is quite good, led by Sandra Bullock as Scarlett, who really stretches vocally to capture her character's high highs and dastardly lows. Jon Hamm plays her lackadaisical husband/hanger-on/gadget guy, Michael Keaton and Allison Janney voice a pair of familial robbers, Jennifer Saunders is the queen and Geoffrey Rush is our helpful narrator.

"Minions" isn't a particularly ambitious animated film, especially compared with superior fare like "Inside Out." It's forgettable, but fun, and I can think of worse ways to spend a little time and money.

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