Further fun with the clumsy yellow ones
Minions (PG) National release Last year, the Penguins escaped Madagascar to star in their own film. Now it’s the Minions’ turn. an animated children’s comedyadventure, is a spin-off from and prequel to Despicable Me (2010). It’s not quite as good as that film, which soars on Steve Carell’s performance as the sensitive arch-villain of the title, but it’s still clever and a lot of fun.
French animator Pierre Coffin, who codirected (with Chris Renaud) Despicable Me and its 2013 sequel, is at the co-helm again (this time with Kyle Banda). That Minions has lots of stereotypical jokes about the English — the bad teeth, the tea, the corgis — I will let go through to the keeper.
The film opens with a mock-documentary sequence, narrated by Geoffrey Rush, that slickly fills in the Minions’ backstory. The little yellow creatures (“like a jaundiced baby’’, someone observes later) have been around since the dawn of time. Their only purpose in life is to serve an evil master.
Unfortunately, the Minions are lethally clumsy, and we watch through time as tyrants of varying degrees of wickedness — a T. rex, Dracula, Napoleon — come to untimely ends. “Finding a boss was easy, but keeping a boss ... there lies the rub,’’ intones our narrator.
The Minions exile themselves to Antarctica, but soon become despondent and so three of their number — Kevin, Stuart and Bob — head off in search of a new overlord. It’s now 1968 and their odyssey takes them first to New York and then to London.
The swinging 60s setting will bring smiles to the faces of nostalgic older viewers, but be prepared for a lot of questions afterwards. What’s Bewitched, Dad? Who’s Nixon? It also provides a lively soundtrack and sets up some neat visual jokes, such as when the three Minions pop up from under a London manhole cover only to be The recent film starring Adam Sandler — wait! Don’t leave ... hear me out, and I’ll promise this is not an Adam Sandler film.
is directed by Tom McCarthy, the American character actor who has proved himself a very capable writer-director with the very good
(which introduced Peter Dinklage to the world) and immigration drama
before the so-so And Sandler tends to invest more into his dramas — or even his final appearance bidding farewell to David Letterman on the latter’s show last month — than he does in his film comedies these days. His performance in was as good as his early comedy, although investing something into Jason Reitman’s recent shocker didn’t pay off.
So DVD Letterbox is far more inclined to give Sandler a go here than in even though is a “fantasy drama”. (When is the last time that genre worked?)
The first surprise is an opening period scene with subtitles, briefly establishing the history of a New York shoe repair shop and its magic heirloom. Sandler’s Max Simkin is — as Sandler characters often are — bewildered and frustrated by the monotony of his daily existence. That is until he stumbles upon that heirloom in the basement. In another example of his penchant for magic realism, Sandler’s character takes on the appearance of customers when he dons their shoes repaired by the magical stitcher. He’s been here before in and and pushed back down by four through a pedestrian crossing.
Kevin, Stuart and Bob have their sights set on Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock), “the world’s first female supervillain’’. They find her, and her mad inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm), at an international villain convention in Orlando, Florida. This is brilliantly staged, a blended parody of Oscars night and American political conventions.
Like all the best villains, Scarlet Overkill is a combination of ruthlessness and vulnerability, and Bullock brings this across well. Allison Janney and Michael Keaton add further star power in their Bonnie and Clyde (with kids) roles.
From here the story takes lots of twists and turns, with Brian Lynch’s script incorporating more plot lines than the average kids’ film, but it’s not hard to follow. There’s sustained suspense, thrilling chase scenes and lots of nods to
striding possibly thought he might attain the heights of Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in Unfortunately, no.
Though it’s not Sandler’s fault, or the fault of a range of actors who subsequently take on Sandler’s mannerisms and vocal patterns with varying degrees of success and comedy.
The screenplay by McCarthy and Paul Sado aspires to be somewhat sweet rather than go for all-out laughs. But the sweetness sags into stupidity after the initial few mild laughs as Max tests out various bodies. But then the film has to find a story, not just a gimmick. Eventually, Max devotes his magical powers to the unlikely job of saving a resident being evicted by an evil landlord (Ellen Barkin), and the story devolves into a mushy fable about gentrification, family and making good.
Max discovers, in a silly conclusion featuring Dustin Hoffman, that he is the guardian of souls — soles, get it? — as if he hadn’t already realised, you have to occasionally walk in another person’s shoes to see who you really are. By then, The Cobbler’s (M, Transmission, 94 min, $29.99) sentiment feels like it’s hit you in the head with a Blundstone boot. What We Did on Our Holiday (PG) Transmission (91 min, $29.99) The Newsroom: season 3 (M) HBO (439 min, $29.99) The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (M) Transmission (123 min, $29.99) Wild (MA15+) Fox (115 min, $29.95) popular celluloid monsters. The under-12s at the screening I attended had a ball.
The serious action unfolds in London, centred on Scarlet Overkill’s ambition to usurp the throne. It’s here we meet my favourite character (it’s the first question I’m asked, post-film): a feisty Queen Elizabeth II, sharp of tongue and fast of fist, wonderfully voiced by English comedian Jennifer Saunders.
When the Minion masses back in Antarctica decide to set out after their three comrades, we drop in on other climes, including a comic-book Australia (but, hey, it’s nice to be included). The ending, a tremendous battle in Trafalgar Square (with Admiral Nelson no mere stone witness) followed by a final showdown outside Buckingham Palace, is very satisfying, neatly reminding us that this is a prequel. (A third Despicable Me film is due in 2017, by the way.)
Co-director Coffin voices all of the Minions in what my young co-reviewer and I have dubbed Spanglibberish, as it sounds mostly Spanish enhanced with a bit of English and a lot of nonsense. The strange thing is, it’s very easy to understand, such as in a wonderful scene where the Minions persuade a caveman to fend off a bear with a flyswatter. Move over, Esperanto, Minion is here.
With the school holidays looming, Minions is a good answer to the perennial question, “What are we going to do today?” While it can be seen on its own, I suggest catching up with the Despicable Me films first (there’s another day sorted!), as it will enrich the experience. It’s not without educational value, either, with the Tower of London torture chamber scene, for example, sure to excite interest in English history.
Two other suggestions: see the film in 3D and stick around for the post-credits sequence. These have become near-ubiquitous, but this one is worth waiting for, especially in 3D.
June 20-21, 2015
The Minions take a ride with Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock)