It was inevitable that the Minions would get their own full-length movie. These strange cartoon creatures — overall-clad yellow munchkins resembling googly-eyed amoxicillin capsules — stole the spotlight from Steve Carell’s Gru in both “Despicable Me” movies. And the raft of Minion-themed shorts that followed, along with the requisite video game, was still not enough to satisfy the clangorous demand of their prepubescent fans.
Many of those fans were on hand at the local press screening of “Minions,” giving audible evidence of their devotion by chanting “Minions! Minions! Minions!” when the start time was delayed by more than 30 minutes (which pushed the closing credits well past their bedtimes.)
I am not sure that I can even remember such youthful passion. But then, neither can my 15-year-old son, who is long past caring about the Minion origin story, which is the subject of the current — and no doubt polarizing — prequel. While “Minions” will probably delight small children, the story of how the title characters came to be henchmen for the supervillain Gru may well drive their parents insane, despite being set in the 1960s and boasting a classic-rock soundtrack featuring the Kinks, the Beatles and the Who.
Music to your ears? Sure, mine, too. It’s just that 90 minutes of listening to the “dialogue” of Minions — who jabber in a helium-pitched blend of pidgin French, Spanish and Italian, sprinkled with a smattering of Jar Jar Binks-isms and the occasional “yakitori” or “pachinko” — is not my idea of fun. I, too, once enjoyed the Minions, in the small doses that they came in. But the extra-strength “Minions” is, for better or for worse, too much of a good thing.
The movie opens with a charming 2-D animation of the Minion race’s evolution from single-celled organisms to the roly-poly lackeys that they eventually become: a 3-D, CGI horde of cheerful if clownishly inept beings destined by DNA to seek the employ of the world’s worst characters. This prologue shows them working, over the centuries, for such baddies as Dracula and the Abominable Snowman before receiving word of a convention of evildoers in 1960s Florida. Three of the apparently ageless Minions — Kevin, Bob and Stewart, all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin — travel from Antarctica to Orlando, where they’re hired by arch-villain Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) to steal the Queen of England’s crown.
Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.
And by “ensue,” I mean: come at you like a freight train. “Minions,” by and large, derives its laughs from the kind of comedy that kids love — e.g., characters falling down, or having things fall on them — but it lacks the subversive, self-referential physical wit of a classic Tex Avery cartoon. It’s lowest-common-denominator slapstick, and plenty of it, the theory being that, if something works, more of it is always better.
Jon Hamm turns in an amusing performance as Scarlett’s husband, Herb, a shaggy, heavily sideburned hipster who is in charge of gadgets and weaponry (which deliver most of the film’s modestly clever sight gags, as they did in the “Despicable Me” movies). But “Minions” is neither for nor about grown-ups like him, who are old enough to shave. It belongs to the Minions and their legions of still fresh-faced fans.
Two and a half stars. Rated PG. Contains slapstick violence and mild rude humor. 91 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.