Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 31 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 6; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 14.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Do they not err that plan evil? Those who plan good find loyalty and faithfulness.
Although virtually all of us enjoyed the villainous mastermind Gru in the two Despicable Me films, we loved perhaps even more his followers, the Minions. Though devoted to an evil master, the little yellow capsule-shaped creatures, clad in overalls and wearing goggles over their one or two eyes, were “adorable.” Little wonder that the powers that be at Universal Studios Illumination Entertainment would greenlight a movie devoted to them, in this case a “prequel” detailing their origin before attaching themselves to Gru.
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda and narrated by Geofrey Rush, the film starts, like Genesis and the Gospel of John, “in the beginning”—well almost–with the origin of life itself on our planet. Evolution has built into the minions the desire to serve someone bad, hence, beginning in prehistoric times, their series of allegiances to powerful figures, ranging from the T-Rex to the Egyptian Pharaohs to Dracula (the Middle Ages) and Napoleon. But always their bumbling loyalty leads to the downfall of their master) such as accidnetally knocking T-Rex into the depths of a volcano). As a result they retreat into their own ice age, a huge cavern in Antarctica.
Were it not for three individual minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin—I love it that as the Universal Logos appears we hear the “three” humming the theme music!)) they might have perished of despair in the icy wilderness. Kevin, the tallest of our three anti-heroes, announces that he has a plan to find a suitable despicable master. One-eyed, ukele-playing Stuart is gung-ho to go along, and so is the short Bob, with his one green and one brown eyes. After setting forth, they land in New York of the later 60s when Hippies were still part of the scene—I loved the large billboard proclaiming that Richard Nixon is one we can trust! Learning that VillainCom is being held in Orlando, they hitchhike with a would-be outlaw family to the event and soon learn that the world’s first female supervillain Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) is the featured attraction.
Of course, our minions are soon serving her and supporting her plan to steal the Queen of England’s crown and throne. The scenes in swinging London are hilarious, from Tower of London guards dancing in their shorts to a spoof of the famed Abbey Lane cover photo of the Beatles’ crossing the street. Both female voice talents, Sandra Bullock and The Queen’s Jennifer Saunders must have had fun portraying their larger than life characters. Queen Elizabeth is depicted as a spunky, joke-cracking character, even when she loses her throne for a while and hangs out in a pub.
In one delightfully demented riff on old tales (there’s also Three Little Pigs, Peter & the Wolf), little Bob comes across a park statue of the boy Arthur tugging at the sword in the stone. When he removes it, he is instantly made King Bob and speaks to the cheering crowd from a balcony. This is one of many points where we see the brilliance of the film: the minions speak in sort of a gibberish, akin to the baby talk of the film’s youngest viewers. Thus most of the humor is visual rather than verbal, and we see in this scene a tribute to the great scene in Charlie Chaplain’s first sound film The Great Dictator, wherein Charlie the Jewish Barber, mistaken for the look-alike Dictator Adenoid Hynkel, makes a gibberish-filled speech to the masses. (This itself was a spoof on Adolph Hitler’s rants, the gutteral speech pattern of the German language sounding like gibberish to the British and Americans of the time.)
The crazy hi-jinks appeal to young and old. The little ones need not appreciate the reversal of values in the series—such as Scarlett Overkill’s “Doesn’t it feel so good to be bad? –there are so many funny happenings. They certainly will not know of my old Webster’s Dictionary definition that a minion is a “servile dependent,” but they will understand that the little guys, closer to them in size than the adults who bring them to the theater, are seeking a master. Presumably they will learn to seek a more worthy person than Overkill or Gru. This is not as much of a morality tale as other kids’ films, writer Brian Lynch just out to tickle our funny bones. However, given how the minions’ bumbling devotion usually results in the downfall of their evil masters, the film does seem to affirm that there is “a moral arc to the universe.” Even though I don’t want to put too heavy a weight on this delightfully silly tale, I couldn’t help but think of the apostle Paul’s words to the Romans trying to get by in the midst of the evil of Imperial Rome, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 12:28) Don’t let me spoil for you the light-hearted fun of a film easily shared by young and old. Just go and see what a good tonic laughter can be.*
* After writing the above the thought came to me how similar this kids’ film is to the adult film I had just reviewed, The 100 Year-old Man…The Swedish film also is filled with absurdist humor in which values are reversed. Allan Karlsson is a child-like character whose desire to blow up things is as immoral as Scarlett Overkill’s intention of stealing the crown and throne of Queen Elizabeth.
This film with a set of discussion questions will be in the August issue of Visual Parables.