Minions review: the sidekicks take centre stage

Can the Minions carry a movie without their master Gru?


What happens to minions without a master? According to this screwball Despicable Me prequel, they go looking for one. Minions charts the history of everyone’s favourite hapless henchmen from their humble beginnings as single-celled organisms, right up to 42 B.G. (‘Before Gru’).

As the opening narration by Geoffrey Rush explains, the accident-prone minions have been around since the dawn of time, and have evolved to find and serve the most despicable boss around.

The T-Rex, prehistoric man, Dracula and Napoleon have all been helped – but mainly hindered – by these loveable lemmings. Following yet another work-related calamity, the tribe ends up exiled to Antarctica and thoroughly dejected.

Many bored years without leadership later, minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob embark on a quest to track down a new head honcho. The trio lands in 1968 New York, making the significant sartorial choice of dungarees over tie-dye before heading to Villain-Con with hopes of finding their dream baddie.

They discover the uncrowned queen of crime is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world’s first female supervillain, who swoops onto screen in a rocket dress and into the minions’ hearts.

Of course, the little guys end up working for Scarlet and try to steal a real crown for her from none other than Queen Elizabeth II, once the action moves to swinging London. But mishaps follow them as day follows night, so it’s only a matter of time before their new leader has the minions in her crosshairs.

It may not have escaped your attention, but minions are kind of a big deal. Their idiosyncratic speech, wide-eyed earnestness and Three-Stooges-style slapstick have struck a chord particularly with younger cinemagoers. They’re charming, but can they carry a movie?

Well, sort of. Minions is packed full of ideas: the history of their species was almost begging to be made into a series of animated shorts, and there’s a whole world of villain subculture to be explored. Gags come thick and fast, but at times the film lacks focus. Which is absolutely fine for a movie where the target audience craves the odd silly distraction.

Things calm down a little once our three heroes are in the employ of Scarlet and her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm). The only problem being that the villain/minion dynamic is an apt reminder of the successful Despicable Me formula and, while endearing, the minions as the main attraction starts to feel like too much of a good thing.

Happily Sandra Bullock has a whale of a time playing a demented supervillain for a change. She is a tad try-hard, but that’s kind of the point of her character. Scarlet has a dream and come hell or high water, she’s going to realise it. Unfortunately for the story, her dream gets the third act rather tangled up in knots and her character lacks the complexity and heart of Gru, who is very much missed.

The supporting cast is impressive, with Michael Keaton and Allison Janney playing the Mom and Pop of a family of bank robbers, Jennifer Saunders as a suitably haughty Queen Elizabeth, and additional Brit accents supplied by Steve Coogan.

Co-director Pierre Coffin gives voice to the diminutive stars of the show himself, and it’s tough not to giggle at their babbling speech, and daffy splicing of words and languages. The minions are loveable little scamps and you’ll be hard-pressed to meet a child who doesn’t love them already – this is really a film for them.

It’s an unenviable task bringing sidekicks into the spotlight. Characters like Scrat (Ice Age) and the Penguins of Madagascar are fun in small doses, but arguably they work better as part of a larger story. Minions is like a sugar rush – short and sweet, but just a little shallow. Nevertheless, it’s an anarchic bit of silliness for kids to enjoy.

Read our exclusive interview with Minions directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda here.