Minions Voices of Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda. Rated PG. Opens Friday.
Like the penguins of Madagascar, the minions are amusing animated supporting characters who are best left out of the spotlight. In the two Despicable Me movies, the little yellow pill-shaped creatures were reliable sources of pratfalls, pranks and puns, but given the task of carrying their own 90-minute feature, they quickly wear out their welcome. Like the penguins, the minions (all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) begin their eponymous spinoff movie with an origin story, explaining that since the dawn of time, these creatures have always lived to serve the most dangerous bad guy around, whether that’s a Tyrannosaurus rex, Dracula or Napoleon. The bulk of the movie takes place in 1968, before the minions have met Despicable star Gru, when minions Kevin, Bob and Stuart set off in search of a new master.
They settle on Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the self-proclaimed greatest super-villain in the world, who orders them to steal the queen of England’s crown. Unlike Gru, whose villainy is tinged with melancholy and insecurity, Scarlet is as one-note a character as the minions themselves, and her third-act turn against the minions is as unmotivated as her earlier embrace of them. She’s not particularly interesting as an ally or an antagonist, and there’s very little at stake in the minions’ efforts to help or defeat her.
While the Despicable movies focused on Gru’s emotional growth, Minions has no heartwarming lessons or character development to offer. It’s just a series of silly set pieces barely held together by a half-formed plot. The minions don’t need to learn or grow, but their adventures should at least be exciting and funny, and the laughs are far too inconsistent. Instead of serving as sidekicks to a creative ensemble of new characters, the minions are forced to carry the movie with their gibberish dialogue and mostly interchangeable personalities. Thanks to merchandising and Internet memes, the minions have become pop-culture staples, and the movie’s main purpose seems to be to further their ubiquity. In that sense, it succeeds, but as an entertaining story in its own right or as a worthwhile franchise prequel, it’s not nearly as effective.