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July 10, 2015

The latest trend in stretching a franchise seems to be spinning off side characters into standalone movies of their own. We saw it with Penguins of Madagascar — which now I’m really regretting not reviewing when it came out — and now we have Minions. And while they’re adorable, silly, and fun, there’s just not a lot here to really satisfy.

It’s not that the Minions’ schtick grows old fast; it doesn’t really grow at all. They’re wonderful as slapstick comic relief in the Despicable Me movies, but stretched out to feature length it’s difficult to find much of a story to them. Just slapping names and personalities onto otherwise interchangeable yellow blobs isn’t enough to create characters that can grow and develop, no matter how many funny situations you throw them into.

We start with a history of the Minions (voiced, as usual, by co-director Pierre Coffin), which is basically an extended version of one of the trailers. For the entire history of life on Earth, the Minions have been dedicated to finding and serving the worst villain around, though they often prove more of a hindrance than a help. After a particularly nasty failure in the Napoleonic Wars, they hid out in a frozen cave, but after a hundred years or so without a boss they grew listless and despondent.

Three Minions set out to find a new boss for the tribe. Kevin, Stuart, and Bob make their way to New York City, where they hear about the 1968 Villain-Con, about to take place in Orlando. They hitch a ride with a family of bank robbers (Allison Janney, Michael Keaton) and end up apprenticed to the convention’s headliner, Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock). She takes them back to London, where she and her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm) want the Minions to steal the crown jewels. And they do, but not quite as planned.

The entire movie plays out like this, with the Minions stumbling and bumbling their way from one gag to another. To be sure, it’s pretty much all funny, and there was plenty to laugh at for both low- and middle-brow tastes. That said, parents bringing their kids are likely to get the jokes at least a few beats ahead of time; when the Minions are trying to escape from the sewers it’s not too surprising what they’ll find at the top of a ladder marked “Abbey Road”, for instance.

But, like a feature-length Three Stooges movie, there’s never really any cohesion to the narrative. Nothing pulls us from one scene into the next. Not just physically invulnerable, the Minions are unchanging in every way. Everything they endure bounces off of them, and so they come to the end of the film exactly the way they began it; they could have stumbled in at any point without really changing the outcome. And so, as fun as the ride can sometimes be, we’re left wondering, “is that all there is?” Fine, for a silly little cartoon, but Penguins just showed us that even a silly cartoon can be greater than this.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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