Make no mistake, Minions is an afterthought; an idea that only morphed into a thing when Despicable Me and its sequel surprised everybody with box office earnings that would put Greece back in the black. The fact that it was a bunch of rowdy, yellow, gibberish-speaking blobs who emerged from these films as a pop culture phenomenon of monstrous proportions was perhaps even beyond the most optimistic expectations of the filmmakers. As such, this film exists more because of the enormous marketing and merchandising potential that it offers rather than any artistic or narrative imperative. There is a seemingly endless array of Minions products – for children and adults alike – that have saturated the retail space, generating profits that will probably far exceed the myriad millions that film itself will generate in cinematic release. In fact, it could be argued that the film is merely an extended advertisement for the merchandise but, despite its somewhat cynical conception, Minions is far from terrible. In fact, it’s pretty darn funny for the most part.
Presented as an origin tale, we learn – courtesy of a voice-over from Geoffrey Rush – that minions have lived since before the time of the dinosaurs, beginning, it would seem, as undersea organisms. With no females (as far as we know anyway) in their midst, no attempt is made to explain how their numbers have grown to such levels, although they never seem to age anyway so maybe that is a moot point. For whatever reason – and again there is no attempt to try and explain this – the minions can only achieve a sense of fulfilment when they are engaged as servants to the world’s biggest villain. Of course, if you allow yourself to become too bogged down in thinking about the lack of exposition and narrative logic, you way well do your head in. A montage takes us through the history of minion servitude – from T-Rex to Dracula to Napoleon – before their continued failures have forced them to retreat to an arctic cavern where they live in seclusion, longing for a master to serve. When three intrepid members of the flock (Kevin, Stuart and Bob) set out in search of an evildoer worthy of their worship, they emerge initially in 1960’s New York before ultimately landing in London, having signed-on with self-proclaimed super villainess Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock).
Given the time period in question, the soundtrack bristles with the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Doors. There are jokes aplenty that draw on English history and tradition and, as is so often the case in animated films these days, there are pop culture references galore, many of which would be lost on the younger audience. Instructed by Scarlett to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown, the intrepid trio embark on a whacky series of adventures that ultimately see them emerge as both heroes and villains. Don’t expect it to make any sense, just go along for the ride as it is the unabashed absurdity that makes Minions so much fun.
Neither writer Brian Lynch nor co-directors Pierre Coffin (Despicable Me) and Kyle Balda (The Lorax) are interested in changing the formula that has worked so well for these characters in previous outings. They speak an indecipherable language (with all of the minions voiced by Coffin), there are no life lessons to be learned and it all leads to an end point which dovetails nicely with the original Despicable Me films. It goes without saying that both the animation and the voice cast, which includes the likes of Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney and Jennifer Saunders, is first rate and, as such, the whole thing works pretty well. Whilst it doesn’t have the heart of the first film, there is sufficient slapstick silliness and action sequences to make Minions a not altogether unpleasant way to spend 90 minutes.