In the 20 years since Pixar kicked off the age of computer-animated movies, there have been a multitude of lovable supporting characters having an impact on audiences. Toy Story had their tiny green aliens, Ice Age had the accident-prone Scrat, but none come close to the popularity of the Minions, the little yellow scene-stealers from the Despicable Me franchise.
Having starred in their own short films and appeared on a variety of merchandise, it was inevitable that the characters would get their own feature-length adventure. But with those few animated spin-offs not quite matching the box-office success of the franchises that spawned them (Puss in Boots from Shrek, those Penguins from Madagascar), can the minuscule helpers make it without Gru?
Minions centres on, well, Minions. Tiny, yellow, excitable beings who have survived for centuries looking for a master to serve. After many false starts, they set up a home for themselves, but soon become depressed and long for a purpose. It’s up to three brave, young Minions – Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all voiced, in a manner of speaking, by series co-director Pierre Coffin) – to go out into the world and find the most despicable villain they can to call “boss”. Their journey takes them to Swinging Sixties London, and an encounter with a supervillain (Sandra Bullock) who, shockingly, does not have their best interests at heart.
Whether live action or animated, small screen or big, spin-offs all find themselves facing the same hurdle: can you make characters who were great in small doses enjoyable over a longer running time? For Minions, the answer is a hesitant “yes”.
As the critters tear their way through the retro-styled London, it becomes clear that most of the plot is merely a set-up for their pratfalls and slapstick shenanigans (think the Three Stooges for under-10s). However, the characters are so lovable and the gags so rapid that you’ll be too busy chuckling to notice the flaws.
A mix of hilarious catastrophes (such as Bob encountering the Sword in the Stone and the finale involving a giant Kevin) and clever asides from the human characters is delivered at machine-gun speed. There isn’t much point to any of the madness, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable ride.
There is less for adults to enjoy than in the Despicable Me films, aside from hints at some darker humour that are brief but clever (particularly the cheerful family that the trio catch a ride with, and unwittingly aid in a crime). The 1960s setting also allows for one of the cooler soundtracks of the year, with the Who, the Kinks and Hendrix all making an audio appearance.
The voice cast – or at least those that don’t speak Minion – aren’t given much to do but make a good impression. Animation debutant Sandra Bullock does a great job voicing the maniacally insecure villain Scarlet Overkill, aided by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as her assistant/husband Herb (a torture scene involving him and our heroes provides one of the film’s biggest laughs).
On the whole, Minions may only truly win over younger fans, but an understanding of the characters’ strengths and comedy that never lets up means only the hardest hearts will begrudge them this solo romp.