Spotlight on side­kicks

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE - BY JAKE COYLE

‘Minions’ pro­vides a pre­quel for the pip­squeaks of ‘De­spi­ca­ble Me’

Side­kicks rarely shine when thrust into the spotlight, but what about a few hun­dred of them?

The Minions, hav­ing been the best part of the two pre­vi­ous “De­spi­ca­ble Me” movies, have swarmed the screen in “Minions.” As can­di­dates for cen­tre stage, they are seem­ingly ill­suited. Slav­ishly — if rarely com­pe­tently — de­voted lack­eys, they’re un­der­lings by both def­i­ni­tion and ver­ti­cal­ity.

They don’t speak in­tel­li­gi­bly, which, to be fair, isn’t a bar all of Hol­ly­wood’s lead­ing men reach. In­stead, they talk in a bright bab­ble that be­lies their fond­ness for col­or­ful pho­net­ics. “Banana” and “pinata” are their kind of words.

Their un­suit­abil­ity for the lead role, or just about any­thing else, is much of the fun of “Minions,” a happy hench­men over­load that largely suc­ceeds in its sim­ple mis­sion: More Minions!

Di­rected by Pierre Cof­fin (who co-di­rected “De­spi­ca­ble Me” one and two and voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, “Minions” be­gins in fine form. The lit­tle yel­low ones are al­ready hum­ming the Uni­ver­sal theme as the film be­gins.

With Ge­of­frey Rush nar­rat­ing, we get the history of the Minions, which stretches back across eons and be­gins with them — a cu­rios early mam­mal — lit­er­ally walk­ing out of the sea.

But the evo­lu­tion stops there. For thou­sands of years, we see, they’ve been let­ting down their evil mas­ters, from a Tyran­nosaurus Rex ac­ci­den­tally tipped into a vol­cano, to Drac­ula, whom they ex­cit­edly wake with a birth­day cake and wideopen blinds.

The Minions have their own Ice Age, how­ever, end­ing up lead­er­less in Antarc­tica. Af­ter a few hun­dred years, the joy of snow ball fights be­gin­ning to dim, three of them — Kevin, Bob and Stu­art — set out on a quest to find a new su­pervil­lain to idol­ize.

Soon, they’re on their way to Vil­lain-Con, a riff on Comic-Con only a con­ven­tion cel­e­brat­ing the likes of Scar­let Overkill (San­dra Bul­lock), an evil world-con­queror in a bee­hive. The trio in­ad­ver­tently wins a job in Overkill’s en­tourage, and they’re soon en­meshed in her plan to take the Bri­tish throne, along with Overkill’s in­ven­tor, Herb ( Jon Hamm).

There are, it should be noted, more am­bi­tious seats of power to set one’s di­a­bol­i­cal sights on. But this is 1960s Swing­ing Lon­don, a col­or­ful if over-fa­mil­iar back­drop, and the gog­gle-wear­ing Minions could just as well be chip­per Mods.

The ir­rev­er­ent slap­stick un­for­tu­nately gives way to the kind of ac­tion set pieces that have now even cor­rupted chil­dren’s movies. The bom­bast, though never se­ri­ous, is still loud enough to, for too long, drown out the best thing the movie has go­ing for it: The chuck­les and squeaks of the Minions.

It also makes it harder to hear the other key sound ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Minions: the laugh­ter of chil­dren. What are the Minions but stand-ins for kids? Mum­bling half-un­der­stood words by the mouth­ful, they plunge head­long into any task, usu­ally wield­ing a dan­ger­ous ob­ject they shouldn’t. Noth­ing makes them dou­ble over like a good prat­fall, and they will in­sist on a good­night kiss or bed­time story. Team­ing and re­lent­less, they will melt the heart of any guardian, even a su­pervil­lain.

Com­ing on the heels of Pixar’s “In­side Out,” an emo­tional wal­lop that most knocks out mistyeyed adults, “Minions” is a dif­fer­ent beast. This one’s for the kids.

“Minions,” a Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica for “ac­tion and rude hu­mour.” Run­ning time: 91 min­utes. Two and a half stars out of four.

AP PHOTO

In this im­age re­leased by Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures, Scar­let Overkill, voiced by San­dra Bul­lock, sec­ond left, ap­pears with minions Stu­art, left, Kevin and Bob, right, in a scene from the an­i­mated fea­ture, “Minions.

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