The thing with the Minions movie is that the ingredients are here for a really good, really funny family blockbuster. And yet I don’t think you get that. You get just enough, and barely a jot more. At times, it feels as calculated as the amount of tomato ketchup that McDonald’s puts on one of its burgers, and pretty much as satisfying. It’s a short term, decent enough piece of entertainment, but with barely a defining factor about it.
As you’re probably well aware, this is the film where Illumination Entertainment take the supporting characters from the Despicable Me movies, and put them at the heart of their own feature. It’s an artistic gamble – Blue Sky Studios, for one, has resisted to date doing such a thing with Scrat from the Ice Age movies – and a commercially brilliant one.
But, inevitably, it makes for a patchy film. By about half way through, you come to realise just how pivotal Gru was an is to the Despicable Me movies, and how relatively little time we’ve spent with the Minions before.
Things get off to a pacey start, as we get a lengthy voiceover (a very, very lengthy voiceover, with a Marvel-style exposition dump) telling us the history of the Minions, and their hunt to find somebody suitably evil to work for. Eventually, that quest brings us to the 1960s, and the promising Villain Con (which has Dr Nefarious hiding in the background, if you keep your eye out). There, the Minions find the Sandra Bullock-voiced Scarlett Overkill, an evil supervillain with a quest of her own. Promisingly, Villain Con looks all kinds of fun, but – as the movie often does – just as it lands somewhere interesting, it quickly zooms off again. Villain Con gets barely five minutes of screen time as a result.
It’s the start of a pattern. There are further small skits, and a whole host of musical numbers, montages and cultural hat tips (the moon landing gag is a good one) throughout Minions, but little in the way of glue to hold it all together.
But then there are the Minions themselves. Unlike many supporting characters in comedies, the Minions work best en masse. However, here’s the trade off with promoting them to front and centre: the film keeps the focus firmly on three of them: Kevin, Stuart and Bob. It’s called Minions, but it only just qualifies for that ‘s’.
Occasionally you get tasters of the sheer anarchy of hundreds of them, which is where Minions gets some of its most entertaining moments. But for the most part, it’s Kevin, Stuart and Bob we’re left with. The trio don’t really talk, rather they come armed with their distinctive Minion chunter. But whereas the Shaun The Sheep Movie got a whole feature out of characters who could barely mumble dialogue, Minions struggles. That extensive early voiceover and less interesting characters doing the talking is the preferred route.
There are moments that do work. It’s hard not to enjoy some of the liberties the film takes with history, and at one stage, with time travel paradoxes. Furthermore, the denouement you have to applaud just for its genuine willingness to try something barmy.
However, Minions ultimately lacks character, and it lacks story. What you have instead is a compilation of sporadically lively short skits, that are held together with not very much at all. Scarlett Overkill, for instance, is a Gru without the backstory, and again, you appreciate why having the Despicable Me films having him at the centre was so pivotal. Gru, and his ultimate desire to be a good father, is sorely missing.
None of this ultimately matters when it comes to the reason the film ultimately exists. Minions feels like it was dreamed up in a boardroom, where congratulatory backslaps are likely when the box office numbers come in. However, let the lesson of Shrek be heeded somewhere along the line. DreamWorks lost sight of what made its once-key franchise so special, in the race to hit box office deadlines and add a few zeroes to a balance sheet. Minions has moments of life, but it can’t ultimately overcome the challenge of making supporting characters the main attraction, nor does it feel like the idea was fully rounded before pencils were picked up, and the computers switched on.
Thus, instead of the film being something special, it turns out to be a slightly better than usual surrogate babysitter. It’s okay, when it should be really good. It’s content with small laughs, rather than going for big ones. It’ll be rewatched lots of times, I’m just not convinced it’ll be that loved. And, bluntly, it’ll do, when it could have been a lot more.
One heads up, though: it’s got one with the lengthiest post-credits scene I’ve seen in a long time…
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