The Minions are a cynical marketing ploy to fleece millions of moviegoers and blanket the world with banana (BANANA!) yellow merchandising, you say? Well, yeah, and so what? Give me the oddly-shaped, gobbledygook-spouting tribesmen and their gleefully mindless (and ultimately harmless) anarchy any day over the rote, wise-cracking heroics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (yes, them's fighting words, I know). For starters, they're, as a rule, much funnier. And you don't need to have any arcane knowledge of elaborate mythologies or back stories to enjoy their no-frills zaniness.
I'll admit to seeing some of the Looney Tunes' knack for belly-laugh nonsense slapstick in the Minions' lemming-like abject devotion to the most evil master they can find, in their exquisite incompetence in executing correctly even the simplest of tasks. The Minions were originally a sidekick afterthought that eventually took over the two Despicable Me films that spawned them, masterminded by veteran producer Chris Meledandri, who took Fox's animation unit to success with the Ice Age films and the acquisition of Chris Wedge's Blue Sky company. Mr. Meledandri defected to create his own outfit Illumination, outsourcing the animation to French studio MacGuff, and was rewarded a thousand times over with animation director Pierre Coffin's inspiredly zany creatures (all of them voiced by Mr. Coffin himself) making themselves (mis)understood in a sort of pidgin English that recycles words from half a dozen major languages.
Essentially innocents let loose in a big bad world, and so eager to please and be adopted they're glaringly blind to everything else around them, resulting in a reinvention of the classic burlesque pratfalls and slapstick, the Minions are a truly inspired comic creation who, nevertheless, needed a bit more work to carry a full-length feature all on their own, despite the clearly obvious world domination currently being unleashed by Universal's no-holds-barred marketing assault.
Minions, the yellow oddities' own-name debut, is full of inspired, and madly amusing, sight gags. But, A), many of them have already been unveiled in the trailers that have been making the rounds round the interwebs over the past months; and B), they seem to be funnier taken individually, on their own, rather than inside a generally uninspired, been-here-before narrative. That's another Looney Tunes comparison right there - the banana (BANANA!) heads are more at ease in the brief running time of a cartoon short, like the viral tidbits that have spread the word, than in a lumbering 90-minute film that requires a proper script.
The animation is lovely, and the odyssey of the boss-less Minions to find a villain worthy of their obsequiousness in the Swinging Sixties is crammed full of fun, lively details. But the need to articulate it as an "origin story" before the Minions find nominal Despicable Me "hero" Gru, with their experience with villainess Scarlett Overkill (voiced gamely by Sandra Bullock) and her desire to become Queen of England, constrains the madness more than it inspires it, turning the film into a super-hero (or rather super-villain) spoof that is never as funny, as zany or as clever as it thinks it is. Still, the Minions' own sweet brand of mild, onomatopaeic chaos and the visible fun everyone involved had creating it are so contagious that it's unlikely anyone will feel short-changed by this irrepressibly cheery, if somewhat under-performing, feature. BANANA!
USA, Japan, 2015
Voice cast Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Pierre Coffin, Geoffrey Rush
Directors Mr. Coffin and Kyle Balda; screenwriter Brian Lynch; composer Heitor Pereira; designer Éric Guillon; editor Claire Dodgson; producers Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy; production companies Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment in association with Dentsu and Fuji Television Network
Screened July 16th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon, distributor press screening