Director: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Major Players: Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan (voices)
Out Of Five: 3
It was always going to happen. Everybody loved Gru’s little helpers in the Despicable Me movies, so it was only a matter of time before the Minions got their moment in the sun. After all, they’re cute ‘n cuddly, speak a bizarre language that is somehow comprehensible and they get things wrong almost all the time, despite the best of intentions. What’s not to like?
Their film, called simply Minions, isn’t a sequel or companion piece. It’s a prequel, starting at the very dawn of time when the Minions were single cell organisms. As they evolved, their mission was to serve the most evil master they could find – and they found quite a few. A T-Rex, an Egyptian Pharoah, Dracula, Napoleon …… but years without a master left the yellow hoarde depressed. So the intrepid Kevin, plus Stuart and Bob, set off to find one and come upon Scarlet Overkill (the voice of Sandra Bullock), who charges them with stealing the crown belonging to our very own Queen.
As a film, it’s rather like a failed Bake Off confection. It sags in the middle in a big way. The early scenes are engaging and amusing enough, showing the tribe’s different masters and their demise, mostly at the hands of the Minions themselves. But once Kevin, Bob and Stuart go in search of a new boss, it all goes downhill. Despite each of them being characters in their own right, they’re simply not as funny as the Minions en masse. We know the trio too well, so their reactions are predictable and the potential for comic cock-ups takes a nose dive.
There are some moments of inspiration: Stuart chatting up a New York fire hydrant, thinking it’s a lady Minion, is priceless, and repeated when he has two of them for company in a hot tub! But moments like that are far too few and, in a move guaranteed to disappoint audiences who see the film, most of them are in the trailer! When the story returns to the tribe, we’re instantly reminded just how much better they are as a troupe. You can only do so much with three.
It gets a lift at the end with the arrival of the young Gru who, as we know, becomes their master. He is, naturally, voiced by Steve Carell. The rest of the tribe have arrived at this point and we’re back on Despicable Me territory, which follows through into the end credits – backed by Donovan’s Mellow Yellow.
There’s more than a touch of laziness about the very routine storyline, which is a near carbon copy of Muppets Most Wanted: the only difference is that the Queen’s crown is the target, instead of the entire Crown Jewels. Not that the youngsters in the audience will notice, as they’ll be more than happy to watch their little yellow heroes running around and causing mayhem. And they’ll no doubt enjoy the gadgetry Scarlet uses towards the end as she tries eliminate the Minions, even if it does look primitive by today’s standards. The film has a definite whiff of being thrown together to make even more money out of the franchise – and an even stronger whiff of cynicism.
Ultimately, what it shows is that the Minions, even in their entirety, aren’t strong enough to sustain a film by themselves. They are, and should remain, a support act and in that context they’re terrific. Incidentally, I’m not talking about Despicable Me 3 here. That’s scheduled for summer 2017. But Minions is bound to get families into the cinema so, even though it ends in a very conclusive way, the chance of a sequel is very high. I’d prefer it not to happen, because their place is with Gru, but I have a nasty feeling that the money motive will prevail.
Minions is released around the UK on Friday, 26 June and is also reviewed on the next edition of the Talking Pictures podcast, out on Thursday.