‘Minions’ movie review: Despicable Me’s lovable underlings get their own film

Those lovable yellow creatures from Despicable Me are back in action in Minions, a feature-length film that follows in the footsteps of Penguins of Madagascar by giving the franchise’s most popular (albeit minor) supporting characters their own movie.

What exactly are the Minions? They’re small, yellow things with one or two eyes who wear blue overalls and speak in a strangely understandable gibberish that incorporates words from a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, and Italian.

You might assume they were created by Gru, chief villain (or hero, rather) of the first two Despicable Me movies, voiced by Steve Carrell.

But the opening sequence in Minions, narrated by Geoffrey Rush, gives us a brief history of the creatures from their human-evolution-like aquatic beginnings to their transition to land in a world ruled by dinosaurs.

They’ve always been in search of the perfect baddie to serve, but from a T-Rex to Napoleon, their zany antics have always resulted in disaster for their masters. Napoleon, in particular, doesn’t take too kindly to their failures, and forces them into an Arctic exile.

But in the 1960s, one brave Minion – known as Kevin – decides that to save his own kind, he must venture back out into civilization and find the right boss. Together with the enigmatic Bob and the laid-back Stuart, he sets out for New York City.

Cue all the familiar hits from the era: the soundtrack features Donovan’s Mellow Yellow (of course) along with overplayed hits from The Who (My Generation), The Doors (Break on Through to the Other Side), Jimi Hendrix (Foxy Lady) and many others.

Minions is a surprisingly globetrotting affair, taking the trio from NYC to pre-Disney Orlando – where they attend the trade expo Villain-con – and then to London, where new boss Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) wants to steal the Queen’s crown.

Bullock is a lot of fun as Overkill, and the enigmatic voice cast also features Jon Hamm as Scarlet’s husband and inventor, Michael Keaton and Alison Janney as a pair of bank robbers the Minions hitch a ride with, Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) as the Queen of England, and Steve Coogan as a young Professor Flux, one of the few returning characters from the previous films.

But at the center of it all are the Minions, undeniably charming creations whose simplistic adventure makes for a surprisingly compelling affair. There’s something about these guys that is innately appealing; their (almost) non-verbal nature is akin to Shaun the Sheep, though their film isn’t quite as successful.

Minions is looser and lighter than the Despicable Me films – there isn’t much thematic value behind the antics of the titular characters – but it’s also, I think, a little better: the irreverent nature of the script means this is a little less formulaic than the average mainstream kids’ film, and a little more engaging for adults in the audience. It’s also consistently amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny.

Minions was directed by Pierre Coffin, who co-directed the previous two Despicable Me features and provides voice work as the titular creatures, and Kyle Balda (The Lorax); the screenplay was penned by Brian Lynch (Puss in Boots, Hop).

Be sure to stick around through the end credits for one final gag, as the Minions (and others) belt out their own unique version of The Beatles’ Revolution.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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