Spinoffs are risky business nowadays. Shrek tried it with Puss in Boots and had moderate success; Wolverine had his own in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and failed miserably; and now we have Minions, spun off from the adorable little freaks who help out Gru in Despicable Me. Like many others, my favorite part of Despicable Me was always the Minions and their stupid antics that seem to do more harm than good, so the prospect of having a movie entirely about them seemed exceptionally appealing. I just didn’t quite realize that they would need to tell an entire story with characters who do not speak while also managing to keep us focused on the muddled mess of a plot that has as many mishaps as the Minions themselves.
In what serves as an origin story for our bumbling little antiheroes, Minions struggles to keep a coherent story from when they arrive in America until when they meet Gru. Their history, told with a humorous narration from Geoffrey Rush, is whisked by us on screen from the earliest days with dinosaurs to their serving under Napoleon, all the way up until the 1960s in which this film takes place. The real problems start when they try to introduce us to the interim Gru, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), and things go from a traditional origin story to an entirely nonsensical plot that seems to dig itself deeper into a hole that the writers try desperately hard to get out of.
The voice-cast handles the rather boring screenplay well enough. Jon Hamm, who plays Scarlet Overkill’s husband Herb, a mad-genius inventor, appears to be making the most out of a childish script. His character is the most flamboyant and entertaining, shedding the Don Draper skin for something a little more fun. Bullock also seems to have a lot of fun playing a villain for once in her career, and she manages to make a convincing villain though her character doesn’t have the best motivation for her world domination plans except to, you know, dominate the world. Aside from them, and Pierre Coffin who voices the Minions, Michael Keaton and Allison Janney have brief cameos as a mother and father who rob banks with their children, but their scenes are brief and awkwardly thrown in.
The thing about Despicable Me is that it feels like it is directed towards kids, but adults can get a lot of entertainment out of it as well with its relatable themes, lovable characters, and morals that extend off screen. Minions, however, feels like it was specifically made for kids until someone realized that there was nothing that adults would find enjoyable in it so they crammed in sly references to things older audiences would understand and chuckle at. These moments, which are few and far between, feel out of place and forced, never quite achieving the delightful balance the Despicable Me films manage to pull off. The problem with the Minions is that for as cute as they are, they just aren’t relatable, which prevents a deeper emotional connection like with Gru and his children.
After two great Despicable Me films, making a film about the Minions themselves only seemed natural since they made a great marketable opportunity. Unfortunately, the lack of a sensical story, characters who don’t generate any empathy, and contrived scenes that fail more than succeed prevent Minions from amounting to its preceding films. Do yourself a favor and rent either of the other films instead.