The films in the animated franchise featuring the chattering, squishy-body Minions and their evil boss Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) fill a very important entertainment need. They have used slapstick and schoolyard comedy to become the comfort food of the cinema world.
This is very obvious in the latest offering, “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” The entire idea that Gru is some kind of evil villain turned super dad has been replaced in each subsequent film with a heavy dose of the Minions farting and falling their way to laughs. All of the films since the first have relied on how moviegoers can use a little juvenile humor in their life.
“The Rise of Gru” – that takes place in the 1970s – shows how a very young Gru dreamed from the very start of being a super villain. He’s far from that level but has pulled off enough notable hijinks to get him an audition for the supervillain supergroup known as the Vicious 6.
There’s an opening because the group has decided their founder – Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin) – is too old to be part of the team. When Gru is rejected, he commits an evil act that he is sure will get him a place with the supervillains. Instead, he is taken captive and his loyal Minions – Kevin, Stuart, Bob and Otto – set out to save him.
Matthew Fogel’s script offers very few surprises. It is just a series of events to put the Minions in weird and wacky situations. This ranges from silly martial arts training to the Minions being turned into animals. Their combination of unrelenting loyalty and naïve approach no matter the situation is enough to keep the film moving toward a predictable ending. In this case, it is definitely not the destination but the giggle-filled journey – full of more bodily noises than a high school locker room – that creates the laughs.
Fogel makes an attempt to blend in a story about friendship and family but it is only a half-hearted try. It has already been established with the Minions, Gru could not have any friends or family more devoted to him.
Director Kyle Balda (who is on this third Minions movie) is smart enough to keep the action tight and the pacing quick. It is very easy to fill what could have been awkward silences with a funny noise or just the Minions laughing.
Neither his direction nor Fogel’s script take advantage of the ‘70s setting except for some of the music and fashions. That’s not a huge failing as all of that plays second fiddle to anything that the Minions do.
Balda filled the movie with celebrities providing voices for the characters. Carell was necessary because he’s given Gru such a specific way of talking. The same could be said for Russell Brand as Nefario.
Pierre Coffin does a masterful job with the speaking and singing voices of the Minions. His laugh for the yellow creatures is enough to create a smile.
But, casting Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Danny Trejo as the voices of the supervillains provided nothing but a bump in the cost of making the movie. The only argument that can be seriously made for a celebrity voice casting is Taraji P. Henson as the wickedly funny villain known as Belle Bottom. Even she doesn’t fully warrant the need for calling on such well-known actors to be the voice talents.
It is easy to suggest “Minions: The Rise of Gru” could have used a stronger script, embraced the ‘70s setting more and spent less time on celebrity voice casting. That’s really a waste because this franchise has only one main mission – to entertain. That sounds simplistic but to have a film this far into the franchise still create laughs is proof someone is doing something very right.
It all comes down to creating a sense of security that the Minions will not try to be more than they are but just stay in their comfort zone. And it is a funny zone.
Minions: The Rise of Gru
Cast: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Danny Trejo, Taraji P. Henson, Alan Arkin.
Director: Kyle Balda
Rated: PG for violence, rude humor
Running time: 87 minutes.