Film review: Minions - the yellow sidekicks get their own movie
This prequel, showing what the Minions were up to before they met Gru, doesn't quite have the heart of its predecessors
As anyone who saw Despicable Me or its sequel knows, the stars of the show were always the Minions. Those yellow, pill-shaped, dungaree-wearing critters — loyal servants to the evil villain Gru — became a pop culture phenomenon across these two animated adventures. Or at least a "marketing" one. Their own spin-off film was inevitable.
At the helm of Minions is Pierre Coffin, who co-directed the previous two films, though his partner is no longer Chris Renaud but Kyle Balda, whose credits include 2010's Banana, a four-minute Minion short.
With Coffin also back providing voices for the Minions — that weird Euro-babble they speak in — all this suggests it's about more than just merchandising.
Yet this prequel, showing what the Minions were up to before they met Gru, doesn't quite have the heart of its predecessors.
A prologue, narrated by Geoffrey Rush, explains that Minions have been around since time began, simply looking for a villainous master to serve. A T-Rex, an Egyptian pharaoh, and Napoleon all fall foul of their accident-prone ways, sending the Minions scuttling into an Arctic hideout and spiralling into a collective depression - until one day, when a Minion called Kevin decides to find his race a new bad boy to serve. Joining him on this mission is the absent-minded Stuart and the enthusiastic-but-hapless Bob.
The year is 1968 — and the Minions end up in America, at a villains' convention, where they win a contest to serve the mysterious mistress, Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock).
Before they can burble, they're jetting to London where Scarlett and her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm) are plotting to steal the crown jewels. But it's here that the film begins to crumble, with the picture-postcard view of England (tea-sipping, bowler hats, The Beatles) particularly uninspiring.
The real let-down, though, comes with Scarlett. Compare her to Gru, who in spite of himself had a sweet side, and this is a very one-dimensional character, not helped by Bullock's surprisingly flat readings. Much better are the Nelsons; a family of bank-robbers (led by Michael Keaton and Allison Janney) that help the Minions in the film's first third, they're unfortunately then relegated to cheering from the sidelines.
The colourful 3D animation is as first-rate as you'd expect, with Coffin and co packing the film with rich sight gags. But it seems you can have too much of a good thing.
In the Despicable Me films, the Minions were very much the support act, working well in small doses. Putting them front and centre is — to borrow from a certain villainess — overkill. Perhaps world domination isn't quite their thing after all.
Minions opens on July 9