I don’t mind telling you, when I hear the words, “spin-off,” regarding film or television, I don’t get the best of feelings. The history of the term (which I will not go into here) conjures up as many negative thoughts as does the phrase, “third movie in a film franchise series.” Still, being the profession critic that I am, I dutifully took the family to the newest BIGD (think the poor man’s IMAX) theater and prepared for the worst from these yellow, tube-like characters who populated the last two “despicable” productions, “Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2.”
Boy, was I surprised. Few supporting characters ever get a chance to be leading men (or minions, for that matter), after all, we have never seen movies titled, “Robin,” “Tonto” or “Kato.” But here, as directed by Pierre Coffin (who co-directed “Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2” and voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, their family-friendly vehicle, Minions, is funny and compelling from the very beginning when the creatures emerge from the primordial ocean and begin their long — and often disappointing — search for a villain to serve.
The little goofballs cannot seem to catch a break, however, as their “leaders” consist of a Tyrannosaurus rex which falls into a volcano, a caveman who becomes lunch for a bear, a Dracula character who is not a morning person and Napoleon, among others. They finally find a cave in a snowbound world where they can throw snowballs, build igloos and drown their sorrows with endless play.
But for Kevin, Bob and Stuart, this life is not satisfying at all, so they leave to find the most evil bad person they can find. This involves a trip to a hip and swinging New York (did I mention it’s a 1968 timeline), so their silly appearance fits right in with the others of that era. After some misadventures, they soon discover that all of the baddies worth their salt will be at “Villain-Con” (a play on “Comic-Con” and other such institutions) located in sunny Florida.
Driven there by a family of bank robbers led by Madge (voice of Allison Janney, “The Way Way Back”) and Walter (voice of Michael Keaton, Oscar-nominated for “Birdman”), the trio discovers that the ultimate bad guy is really a girl, Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock, Oscar-nominated for “Gravity”), who is married to Herb (voice of Jon Hamm, TV’s “Madmen”). Scarlett needs the little creatures to steal the crown of Queen Elizabeth II (voice of Jennifer Saunders, “Shrek 2”).
Instead, Bob accidentally pulls the mythical sword from the stone (of the King Arthur legend) and he gains the crown by default. Now, Scarlett is cheesed and does her best to recover said trinket, even pulling out as much firepower as Herb has invented for her. Parents, please bear in mind that these segments are probably the most intense of Minions (and, as such, the least satisfying).
Nevertheless, after all of this, we are treated to a nice little conclusion that wraps things up and, of course, introduces us to a future relationship the minions have with Gru (voice of Steve Carrell, Oscar-nominated for “Foxcatcher”). All of this is well and good, but since the film takes place in the 1960s, you know the musical soundtrack has to be great — and one will not be disappointed. Tunes such as “Happy Together,” “You Really Got Me,” “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” “Love Me Do,” “I’m a Man,” “My Generation,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Revolution” and many others are a treat to the ears. In fact, the minions themselves get in on the action by doing their own version of the Universal Pictures’ opening theme song which sets the silly, light-hearted mood for what’s to come.