Editor’s Notes: Minions opens in wide theatrical release today, July 10th.
There are two schools of film criticism. The first is the open model, wherein a critic will advise and recommend a film based on the varying tastes of his or her readership (movie opinions are, after all, the ultimate in subjectivity). The second is a more closed, authoritative model, one by which a critic tells his readers that a film is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, either good or bad based on his or her own superior judgment. I tend to speak and write with authority, sometimes to a fault. I fall into that latter category probably more often than I should. But not today, dear readers, for I have encountered a movie that sits squarely on the bending, wobbly line of subjectivity.
Cute as the side attraction in the Despicable Me films but far more taxing when put at the center of their own feature-length story.
Sorry, everyone, but Minions didn’t do it for me. It may well do it for you. And it will assuredly do it for enough people to send its box-office dollars surging through the roof. People love these little bastards. But for me, it was tough to stay awake past the first half hour.
And it’s not necessarily for lack of engagement with the central characters – although, let’s be honest, they’re yellow, oblong goons who speak gibberish. They are precisely as the title describes – minions. Cute as the side attraction in the Despicable Me films but far more taxing when put at the center of their own feature-length story. Any spinoff runs the risk of stretching its source material from amusing into annoying, and Minions is certainly no exception.
But in execution, one of the (few) things I admire about this project is its willingness to center a narrative on three characters – Kevin, Stu, and Bob (all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) – who aren’t concretely tangible. It’s no WALL-E, where the lead character barely speaks a word and much of the narrative functions as a beautiful silent film, but at the very least, Minions tasks its target audience of very young children with engaging a story about characters who are, more or less, speaking a foreign language without subtitles. That, if nothing else, is laudable and interesting.
Minions tasks its target audience of very young children with engaging a story about characters who are, more or less, speaking a foreign language without subtitles. That, if nothing else, is laudable and interesting.
But indeed, nothing else is interesting about the film, and the fact that the screenplay even attempts a story at all is distressing, since the Minions tend to function best in episodic bursts of slapstick. It’s not much of a story, let’s be clear – Kevin, Stu, and Bob break away from the pack to find a new evil leader, stumble upon a Villain Convention and accidentally latch onto Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock), whose evil plan involves overthrowing the Queen of England – but it’s enough to sap what little charm can be mined out of these goofy characters. Their actions are shackled by plot as opposed to the endless creative opportunities that exist for such slapstick-centric creations. The film’s opening scene, an origin story that follows the Minions from the prehistoric period up through the central story’s setting in 1968, gets the formula right: take a rote scenario, be it history-based or entirely random, and inject the Minions as humorous spice. Anything less nebulous than that grinds the gears to a halt.
Of course, that’s just my opinion, mind you. These animated creations have spawned a massive fanbase. My screening was populated with plenty of folks sporting Minion merchandise…and it wasn’t just the kids. I sat through Minions and literally didn’t laugh once. I smiled a few times and sat straight faced for the remainder of the time. It’s not my cup of tea. But I can shout that from the rooftops and it’s not gonna stop the film from grossing $300 million domestic and making audiences worldwide erupt with laughter. I don’t get it. If you do, go enjoy. If you fall into my line of thinking, come join me at the Magic Mike XXL party down the hall.
It’s not my cup of tea. But I can shout that from the rooftops and it’s not gonna stop the film from grossing $300 million domestic and making audiences worldwide erupt with laughter.