Franchise finally learns to embrace the goofy madness
By Diana Beechener
In the mid-1970s, disco is king, the bottoms are belled, and a young Gru (Steve Carell: Space Force) is just getting into the villain game. Though he’s still in elementary school, he’s got big plans: He wants to join the Vicious Six, a villain supergroup started by Gru’s evil idol Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin: The Kominsky Method).
Backing him up are his steadfastly loyal and overwhelmingly incompetent Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin). The tiny yellow creatures love Gru and are fully committed to helping him achieve super-villainy before he can drive.
When Wild Knuckles suddenly dies, there’s an opening in the Vicious Six and Gru is invited to audition. At his tryout, Gru is immediately dismissed because he’s a kid. The Six’s new leader, Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson: Annie Live!), tells him to scram and Gru sees red.
While the team is distracted with another candidate, Gru steals a sacred stone that offers the wearer special powers. It’s the heist of the century and Gru is sure stealing from his idols will make them accept him.
There’s only one problem. Minion Otto has traded the sacred stone for a pet rock (it is the ‘70s, after all). Now Gru and the Minions must find the real stone before the Vicious Six find them.
After five feature films, countless shorts and video games, audiences know who the Minions are (if you don’t, they’re the little yellow creatures in all the memes your aunt posts on Facebook), but filmmakers have had a hard time using them to their full potential. Partly because the Minions themselves work best as comic relief, and partly due to the character of Gru becoming a millstone around the franchise’s neck. Gru’s not that evil, he’s not that funny, and he seems to “find the true meaning of family” in every movie—he should really write that down somewhere.
Director Kyle Balda (Despicable Me 3) decides to side-step Gru’s problematic character development and focus on what both kids and adults enjoy: Minion antics. The critters are essentially agents of chaos. They screw up everything until they accidentally stumble upon something that fixes all the problems they’ve caused. Think of them as a slightly more altruistic version of Bugs Bunny. This film is a breezy tribute to their antics without ever feeling mawkish or dragging.
By leaning into Minions fun, the movie is lighter and overall pretty darn funny. There’s the usual silly slapstick, including a few Minion behinds, which is now a running gag. But watching a Minion choral group cover The Rolling Stones or go on an adventure with a biker voiced by RZA is infinitely more entertaining than watching Gru scheme to do something only to be foiled by his conscience. Balda also throws in some great gags for adults, my favorite being a crab-clawed villain named Jean-Clawed, voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme. The entire opening of the film is also an inspired spoof of Raiders of the Lost Ark that had older audience members hooting.
The other great strength of the film is some truly game work from its cast. Henson is doing her best Pam Grier as a ‘70s baddie. Michelle Yeoh, who’s having an incredible year, is a hilarious kung-fu teacher tasked with getting a trio of Minions in fighting shape. And the most heartfelt performance comes from Arkin as a lonely villain who might just need someone to mentor.
Ironically, by embracing the chaos of the Minions and putting the “emotional growth” stories on the backburner, Minions: The Rise of Gru becomes a stronger movie. If you’re in the mood for something silly, or just want a film that will captivate the kids, The Rise of Gru is a safe bet.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is only in theaters.
Good Animation * PG * 87 mins.