So last night I went to the theater to finally see Minions, something I had been hoping to do since its opening day (July 10th in the U.S.). Being a fan of the Despicable Me movies and characters, I was going into this not only with high expectations, but also a certain favoritism, I'll admit! But I will be totally honest in my appraisal of the movie, and also let you know now that there are some minor spoilers in this.
First, let's talk records...just to demonstrate how BIG the minion characters, and the Despicable Me franchise, truly are currently (which some Animation Source fans either don't seem to realize, or refuse to admit...lol). Minions set an opening day record in several countries, nabbing the top spot in animated history for an opening day (including in the U.S.), and the second highest animated box office opening world-wide in history.
So when I went, ten days after opening, and for a 9:30 P.M. (21:30) show, I was pleasantly surprised to still see a pretty fair turnout (not a packed house, but certainly an impressive turnout for more than a week after opening day and a later show). Demographically it was mix: a few families, some millenials (twenty-somethings), and some middle-aged couples and singles, and some teens. There were a LOT of previews tacked onto the beginning, which was a bit frustrating, and most of them were kid-oriented 2-D animated or CGI films.
The film opened pretty much with the story seen in the first trailer. Though you get to see more of their initial development from single-celled organisms up through their emergence from the ocean. It's done quick and clean, and with the narrator heard in the trailer. And once they start, the movie rarely slows down, and doesn't spend too much time on any one scene. Which is nice. We see the minions go through several evil masters, accidentally bumping each off through their own bumbling. Then we come to their entering the army of Napoleon Bonaparte during his campaign in the frozen wastes of Russia...close to his final days as a general and ruler of France.
The story quickly brings the focus onto the three minions named in the trailers (minions we've seen in each of the previous movies: Kevin, Stuart and Bob). We learn that Kevin decides to rescue his fellow minions (his "tribe") from their present situation...driven into hiding after blowing up Napoleon Bonaparte with a misplaced cannon shot (lol)...and then falling gradually into depression and listlessness. He tries to enlist some help after making a halting speech. Bob tries eagerly to volunteer, but is repeatedly snubbed by Kevin because of his youth and seeming lack of potential. After attempts to secure other volunteers (whereupon Stuart, who is off daydreaming in the crowd of minions, gets volunteered unwittingly), and getting none, Kevin grudgingly accepts Bob into the fold. They set out in search of a new evil master to serve. And, after some cross-country (and cross-ocean) trekking, they end up unexpectedly in New York harbor, circa 1968.
The three minions find themselves some new clothes (ending up with early versions of their iconic jean overalls), and start stumbling around New York City looking for a new master. They end up in a shopping mall and, wandering aimlessly inside, get locked in after the mall closes. They decide to make the most of it, relaxing while turning on the television...where they then stumble upon a secret evil criminal channel, and learn of VillainCon, and that they must get to Orlando to attend it and do what they can to become henchmen for the biggest, baddest supervillain of the time, Scarlet Overkill!
The story, however, does not flow like either of the Despicable Me movies, and you tend to notice the difference. Primarily because the focus is on the minions, and specifically Kevin, Stuart and Bob. They have more screen time than any other characters, and more than the minions ever had (well, that is the point of the movie). So there is no anti-heroesque supervillain or three cute little girls to become attached to. The three main minions carry the story, with some help from supporting characters, and take on a heroic nature even though they spend the whole movie (right through the end) seeking the ultimate villain to serve. Is it a bad story? No, not at all. But the pacing and style of the story is rather different than the two previous movies, and that may not sit that well with those who are too loyal to those previous ones, and unwilling to adjust their expectations and be open-minded about this new story.
Without exposing the rest of the story, let me give some thoughts on it overall:
- Main Characters: Clearly this is Kevin, Stuart and Bob's story. There are few other main characters, but MANY supporting ones. We even get to see cameos by four key characters from the previous movies (the Despicable Me movies): Gru, Dr. Nefario, Gru's mom and even Kyle...though as much younger versions of themselves. It stands to reason however...this film IS still a part of the existing franchise, and serves as an origin story for the minions, and as a prequel of Despicable Me.
- Scarlet and Herb Overkill: Unlike Gru, Dr. Nefario, Vector, and El Macho in the previous movies, we really don't get an opportunity to develop a real bond with these villains. While they appear frequently in the movie, there is little chance to really get to know them and feel anything for them. In fact, if you end up feeling anything about Scarlet, it's that she is just a mean villain...there's no empathy you can build for her. With Herb, her inventor/scientist husband, you do at least get to see that he's a pretty cool cat. He's laid back, he's occasionally funny, and he's stylish. And he's got that cool late-sixties "mod" hair thing going on. He's vaguely reminiscient of Vector in his behavior, but with a much more late-sixties mod vibe. So it's a bit easier to take a liking to him.
- Supporting Characters: There are plenty, though most of them only appear in very small bits. Several villains appear at VillainCon, and then end up helping Scarlet Overkill later on (because everyone wants to be her, or serve her). The family that Kevin, Stuart and Bob hitch a ride with to Orlando get some good screen time (repeatedly throughout the movie), and are pretty amusing and likeable characters. The various villains the minions go through, early in the movie, only have brief bit parts, but their time on screen generates a chuckle or two. Her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, gets some good screen time and is a lively presence! (Even former U.S. President Richard Nixon makes a cameo...and is seen in VillainCon as an attendee...which is the movie's way of poking fun at him for rather obvious reasons...)
- The Minions: There are not quite as many minions seen in this one, overall, as Gru has in his service by the time they all come to work for him. Which just proves that more minions were either engineered by Dr. Nefario (as noted in my one feature), or they have somehow been reproducing. Probably the former more than the latter, as it is made clear in the mini-movie Orientation Day that they have been "engineered from the same strand of mutated DNA". We also get to learn more minion names (though they are spoken by other minions, and sometimes hard to interpret), and we hear new additions to the Minion Language (which I have not added yet, as I am awaiting supplemental postings elsewhere on the internet to compare with, and the DVD/Blu-Ray release so I can analyze the spoken words). The movie also occasionally and briefly looks back in on the rest of the minions, in their hidden colony (apparently somewhere in the northern Siberian frozen wastes), so we get to see something of their culture and how they're progressing, before they're driven out and are called by Kevin to join him, Stuart and Bob in England.
- The Music and Soundtrack: There is a conspicuous and disappointing absence of Pharrell Williams' music in this movie. No original Pharrell songs, and no themed music by him. Now, granted, this is more of a period piece than the previous two movies (which presumably are set in the present day). This one is set in the late 1960s, and there are several original rock songs used for the soundtrack...and a couple sung by the minions themselves. The composer from the previous movies, Heitor Pereira, returns to score the overall movie (and you may recognize a theme or two of his from the previous movies). Still, I was disappointed to see that Pharrell Williams wasn't back on this one, as his writing skills on the previous two provided some great mood music and original songs. I presume (and HOPE!) he will be returning for Despicable Me 3, but there is nothing about it yet on the imdb.com page for the movie.
- The Tie-In: This is an origin movie, and a prequel, so you can expect that there is a tie-in to the previous movies, and specifically that it is laying ground for the next Despicable Me movie (which is set to debut in 2017). Events of this movie will make it very evident that there will be a continuing storyline which connects this one to the first Despicable Me movie, probably filling in the gaps between the two...which would be nice. At least, that is what it looked like the intent will be from what happens in Minions.
Overall, this is a pretty good movie, and I don't believe for a moment that I wasted my money in seeing it in the theater. Did I like it as much as the previous two movies? Admittedly, while I DID enjoy it (and while there were some laugh-out-loud and otherwise entertaining moments), I didn't enjoy it as much as the previous two. But I am hopeful that it will serve as a good tie-in to the next one. Certainly, with its massive popularity (and that of the franchise and the characters overall), there's no reason for them to stop now!