Rated PG for action and rude humor
As far as modern animated films not made by Disney or Pixar go, Despicable Me is one of the good ones. It's fluff, but it's good fluff filled with good humor for the whole family, and its updated take on classic Looney Tunes-style slapstick holds up better than, say, the Madagascar movies and their already-dated pop culture jokes. And the spinoff Minions follows in the same tradition. It lacks the family story that comprised the heart of the original film, as well as much in the way of plot in general, instead serving as an excuse to run around tossing gags at a mile a minute. After seeing Inside Out mark Pixar's return to relevance, I was unfortunately spoiled going into this movie, but if your kids have already seen the adventures of Joy and Sadness a dozen times, this will definitely do the job.
The film is basically an origin story for the titular Minions, a group of yellow-skinned, pill-shaped humanoids who evolved to serve the most evil masters they could find. Of course, they're comically inept little creatures who, more often than not, get their masters killed. After pissing off the wrong army, the Minions run off to the Arctic, where they find themselves without a master for the first time, plunging them into a deep funk. Realizing that they need somebody to serve, three Minions -- the leader Kevin, the childlike Bob, and the rebellious Stuart -- set out into the world of 1968 to find a new evil master. Hijinks ensue when they find one in Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world's first female supervillain, who wishes to steal the crown of Queen Elizabeth and fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a princess and then a queen.
Stuff happens from there, but it's pretty much the barest of excuses to keep the gags flowing fast and thick. This is a film that goes out of its way to cast its net as broad as possible, with the Minions speaking in a made-up gibberish language (I heard some English, Spanish, and even Yiddish in there) so as to reduce the amount of dialogue they need to get the point across. The way the gags involving the Minions work feels like how comedy was done in the days of silent film, with facial expressions, physical comedy, slapstick, and funny sights forming the core of 90% of the jokes. It's perfect for the modern film world, where stories need to work in German, Chinese, and Portuguese as well as they do in English, the same way that big, loud action movies translate so well into international blockbusters. Observational humor about life in America may fly over the heads of moviegoers in Paris or Tokyo who aren't familiar with that culture, but everyone can laugh at a good pratfall or fart joke. The key word, however, is good, which is why this film succeeds where others fail -- it keeps up a light tone and good spirits for its entire running time, and it always focuses on the jokes and the Minions' cuteness to sell them. I enjoyed the Minions so much, in fact, that I was wondering what Sandra Bullock was doing in this movie. She's not bad as Scarlet Overkill, but she is forgettable, failing to really combine the two sides of her character's personality (her glamorous, femme fatale viciousness and her childlike motivations) into a cohesive whole. I honestly wished Michael Keaton and Allison Janney, the bank-robbing parents who showed their heads throughout the movie, had bigger roles, as they stole the show in the few scenes they got.
Score: 3 out of 5
Eh, I liked it. It's not bad, even if it's not particularly memorable outside a few moments. If you've got kids, they'll probably have a blast, and it goes by so quick that you'll barely have time to check your watch.