In this image released by Universal Pictures, Scarlet Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock, second left, appears with minions Stuart, left, Kevin and Bob, right, in a scene from the animated feature, "Minions." (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures via AP)

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Scarlet Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock, second left, appears with minions Stuart, left, Kevin and Bob, right, in a scene from the animated feature, "Minions." (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures via AP)

Reeling it in: ‘Minions’ have their work cut out for them

“Minions”

Illumination Entertainment

1 hour, 31 minutes

 

Minions is a movie that is seriously confused about its subjects. I know it’s perhaps a bit presumptuous to tell a filmmaker that he or she doesn’t truly understand their creation, but several times during this film’s tedious ninety-minute run-time I had to ask myself if the writers weren’t in on their own joke.

What joke, you may ask? First let’s have a little recap.

If you don’t already know, the minions first showed up in the surprisingly good 2010 animated comedy, “Despicable Me.” The movie is about Gru, a super-villain who winds up in charge of three little orphan girls who naturally turn his hard heart into putty. The conceit of the movie is kind of clever in that, unlike this month’s “Inside Out,” which has no villain, “Despicable Me” ostensibly has no hero. Of course, that’s not really true — Gru is the hero and saves the day from the real bad guys.

Aiding Gru in his dastardly plans are a horde of almost indistinguishable, gibberish-speaking little yellow creatures he calls his minions. Goofy and delightfully funny, the minions steal the show in many ways. “Despicable Me 2” chooses to capitalize on this by making the minions actually integral to the plot, without making them the entire story. It works, mostly, and “Despicable Me 2” is a very enjoyable kid’s movie.

But it’s not because of the minions — it’s because of Gru. He’s the key. The joke I referred to earlier is that the minions are almost completely interchangeable. Some are slightly taller than others, some have one eye and others have two, but basically they’re all the same guy. When Gru wanders through their ranks in the first movie, however, he seems to know all their names. He knows their families, their troubles and their triumphs. He addresses them personally while we the audience can’t even distinguish which of the little yellow creatures he’s talking to.

And that’s the point. It’s not about the minions. It’s about Gru. They are a comment on his character — about what a good boss he is, and about what a caring person he is, despite the fact that he calls himself a villain. That, and slapstick sight gags are the minions’ entire story. Therefore, an attempt to tell an entirely minion-centered story, with no Gru, is a fool’s errand.

In this film, we start at the single-cell level and show how the minions, from time immemorial, have been on a never-ending quest to find the biggest, baddest master to serve. Why these obviously sweet creatures would want to serve evil is beyond the scope of this tale, so we watch as they rush to serve every villain from a vicious paramecium to a T-Rex, into ancient Egypt, through the Dark Ages, and finally to Napoleon himself, before hiding away in a remote icy cave for a hundred or so years.

Finally, when the minions are at a low ebb with no master to serve, three individuals, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob, take it upon themselves to go out and search for a master once again. They find themselves in the 1960s and after a few false starts manage to catch a ride to Orlando, Florida, with a family of aspiring bank robbers on their way to VillainCon, the biggest gathering of super villains on the planet.

Headlining the conference is Scarlett Overkill, either the world’s first or worst (I can’t remember — I started to nod off) female super-villain, and before you know it, Stuart, Bob, and Kevin are swept up in her orbit off on an adventure to steal the crown jewels from the Queen of England.

“Minions” has plenty of slapstick to make the littlest audience members happy, and the opening ten minutes or so is pretty clever, although a grating voice-over from Geoffrey Rush ruins any subtlety that the story might have accidentally had. Celebrity appearances from Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm, as Scarlett Overkill and her husband are a waste. Neither actor is even remotely recognizable.

Smaller appearances by Michael Keaton and Allison Janney, however, were pretty funny.

My kids seemed to really enjoy the movie, so I’m probably going to end up sitting through it again at some point. Maybe I’ll get something I missed. For now, though, “Minions” misses the boat by having characters that are just too thin to maintain an entire storyline. Oddly (or maybe not), the movie only really picked up, for me, in the last few minutes when — SPOILER ALERT — a young Gru shows up, stealing more than just treasure, but the minions’ hearts as well.

I hope they make a “Despicable Me 3,” and that the minions are there to provide able comedy back up — but as for another standalone feature, count me out. Instead of a feature, Illumination Entertainment should consider doing a 30-minute show broken into five-minute segments. For five minutes in a row, the antics of Kevin and the gang are amusing — any more than that is a waste of my time.

Grade: C-

“Minions” is rated PG for mild rude humor and cartoon action.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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