Minions has a very strange premise. You’d expect this prequel to the kids’ movie Despicable Me to focus on the human protagonist, the loveably villainous Gru. Instead, it devotes an hour and a half to the back-story of Gru’s adorably incomprehensible minions.
Apparently these little yellow creatures evolved to worship the biggest, baddest boss around, but have an unfortunate habit of getting said boss killed. Three minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), set out to prove themselves to super-villainess Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), but between their well-meaning incompetence and Scarlet’s evil tendencies, things go awry.
On the surface, it’s a rather odd choice by Universal Pictures, especially given that the minions can only communicate in gibberish and that their emotional range is limited to slapstick comedy. It should be delightful for small children and a special kind of torture for their long-suffering parents. Yet, against the odds, this manages to be a bizarrely entertaining movie for all ages. The minions are cute rather than annoying and the plot has a whimsical randomness that suits the whimsical premise.
A lot of this can be attributed to the choice of writer, Brian Lynch. If you’ve read any of Lynch’s earlier work at IDW Comics, you’ll know that he’s brilliant at taking supporting characters and putting them front-and-centre of their own adventures. He does his usual stellar work with Minions, managing to create an engaging story with very little dialogue from the main stars. His trademark offbeat sense of humour slots neatly into this universe of heroes and villains, with various sly homages to fictional and historical characters.
The director is no slouch either. With credits from other kids’ movies like The Lorax and Monsters Inc, Kyle Balda knows exactly how to engage children without alienating parents. Even better, he clearly trusts the integrity of the film. For example, it would have been very easy to over-rely on the narrating voice-over from Geoffrey Rush. However, Rush is used very sparingly, opening and closing the film with just enough information to keep the audience engaged.
If there was anything that didn’t hold up, it was the movie’s occasional dips into a darker style of humour. The slightly macabre moments made it difficult to tell who the target audience is, particularly when combined with the Telly-Tubby-like protagonists. Is it for small children, who’ll enjoy the nonsense dialogue and roly-poly characters? Is it for older kids who can appreciate the affectionate mockery and occasional violent death ala-Shrek?
Despite these confusing moments, Minions has a lot going for it. The graphics are bright and colourful, the storyline fun and upbeat, and the characters hilariously idiosyncratic. Some could even have had a bigger presence, like the friendly family who give the minions a lift to Villain Con. (Any Mum-Dad team who can give their daughter a pep-talk while re-loading an automatic weapon, is one that deserves more screen time.)
All up, Minions is cute, fun, and glories in its own strange internal logic. It won’t revolutionise story telling, but it’s a refreshing break from the usual paint-by-numbers Hollywood treatment. It’s a hero’s journey that took a few detours, got a little lost, and had to stop and ask for directions. If you’re stuck babysitting this weekend, Minions is definitely the movie to see. 7/10
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10
– V. J.