Movie Review: “Minions”

Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush
Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin

It’s easy these days to take for granted the influence that Pixar has had on storytelling for animated films in particular and child-friendly entertainment in general. Prior to the release of “Toy Story” in 1995, there was no guarantee that adults would be entertained at all by a child-friendly film, never mind be entertained as much as the kids were (even Pixar’s now-parent company Disney was guilty of that), and in fact, most movies didn’t even bother pretending to appeal to both kids and adults. As Exhibit A, I submit 1994’s “Monkey Trouble,” starring a pre-“American Beauty” Thora Birch. Nobody likes this movie.

Pixar destroyed the notion that animated movies were simply kids’ stuff, and made films that were literally fun for the whole family. “Minions,” on the other hand, is a throwback of sorts to the pre-Pixar era, the movies that make a couple of dated references to give the parents a chuckle, but are otherwise devoid of a single plot piece or angle that would engage anyone from tweens up. In fact, the movie has no story at all. It’s just one ridiculous setup after another, and none of it makes any sense, but that’s almost beside the point; the minions, much like the “Penguins of Madagascar,” are simply funnier in small doses.

The opening credits show the evolution of the minions from the dawn of time, gleefully following behind the biggest fish in the sea and then land animal, as Geoffrey Rush gently explains to us that their life’s purpose is to serve the world’s most despicable creature (more on that later). That creature changes a number of times over the years, but after a mishap involving a certain vertically challenged army general, the minions go into hiding…and completely lose their sense of purpose. Minions Kevin, Stuart, and Bob dare to seek out a new evil ruler, and after a long journey lands them in New York (it is now 1968), they have found their new boss: Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the most villainous villain alive. The minions impress her, and she hires them for a job: steal the crown of Queen Elizabeth (Jennifer Saunders, holler!). At this point, the film’s screenwriter presumably fell asleep for weeks on end, and his screenwriting software finished the job.

Has anyone noticed that there aren’t any female minions? How have they not died out by now? Maybe they’re like sea horses, but even sea horses have females, so that doesn’t work. Maybe it’s “Jurassic Park” science, where the frog DNA element steps up and the minions can switch genders at will, and they just glossed over that part because it’s too confusing to explain to the children. Or maybe it’s that the creators of these films have given this no thought whatsoever, because “Ba-na-na!”

And to be fair, it’s pretty funny to hear Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock over-pronouncing “Ba-na-na.” But seriously, where are the chicks?

With regard to Rush’s claims that a group of benevolent, joyful creatures would willingly dedicate their lives to serving the worst forms of life on the planet: that is a terrible concept for a comedy. Appease the bully? This is what the audience is supposed to be rooting for? The only way that premise makes any sense is if the minions are a metaphor for people who work for cable companies, and that is far too meta for what’s going on here.

There is one very funny scene where the three minions hitchhike with a family, and things go deliciously sideways (the voice casting plays a large role in why that bit is so funny), but that is the only laugh-out-loud moment in the movie for the adults, or this adult, anyway. Everything else is an endless stream of one third Spanish, one third French, and one third gibberish (with a smidge of English), followed by sped-up laughter. The minions have no unique personalities to speak of, and they never learn from their mistakes. Why, again, are we supposed to root for them?

There’s a scene in “Addams Family Values,” where the campers are taking on roles in a play, and one of the girls says, “I’ll be the victim!” To which Wednesday Addams deadpans, “All your life.” That is the core problem with “Minions.” They are victims of their own choosing, and no amount of Beatles references, physical humor and other British Invasion and late ‘60s cues can make that idea funny. In addition, it seems irresponsible in this day and age to make a film specifically for children about a group of small people who willfully submit to older, larger, meaner people.