ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

A long time ago in a primordial era far, far away, yellow pill-like creatures known as the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) entered the world with one purpose: to serve the most despicable masters throughout the history of the world. Though their loyalty knows no bounds, they’ve always managed to somehow inadvertently destroy the masters they serve, be it a T-Rex, a caveman, an Egyptian Pharaoh, Count Dracula or Napoleon. After Napoleon’s accident, they decide to keep themselves isolated from the rest of the world and begin a new life for themselves.

Meanwhile, in 1930’s Germany…

By 1968, the lack of a master drives the Minions into depression. That’s when three of them, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, set out to Villain-Con – a convention in Orlando, Florida where all the world’s supervillains gather – to find their new master. After meeting many supervillains, they become henchmen for Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock), the world’s first female supervillain who’s bent on stealing the crown of Queen Elizabeth II (voiced by Jennifer Saunders).

Since last year’s Penguins of Madagascar opened to positive critical reviews and earned back $370 million on a $130 million budget, it would only be a matter of time before another fan favorite from a recently popular animated franchise, the Minions of Despicable Me, would be getting their own spinoff treatment. I was late to the Despicable Me party both times, and though I enjoyed them, thinking the Minions needed their own film never really crossed my mind. However, I held out hope anyway ’cause I had a good time with Penguins of Madagascar, and that film was spinning off a franchise I didn’t particularly like.

What I thought was going to be the case with Penguins of Madagascar ends up kinda being the case here with Minions – they work better in smaller doses. There’s not much to their characters; not that you should be expecting much to begin with. If you’re expecting Inside Out levels of development, expect to be disappointed. This is after all a film that’s led by a trio of yellow pill-shaped creatures whose vocabulary skills are limited to what might as well be and what probably is Pentecostal tongues speaking. Because of the limits of what you can do with the Minions, periods of the film feel stretched in order to fill out the feature-length run time.

And that there lies the main difference between the Minions and Penguins. The Penguins have the character and personality to carry a film, and proved so last year; their only obstacle was to avoid having their oddball, over-confident but clueless schtick feel like one-note overkill. The Minions, however, seem better suited as the side act like they were to Steve Carrell’s Gru where they worked like a charm in that capacity.

Still, Minions provides just enough fun, even if it’s not as universally appealing as the Pixar films or even the best of DreamWorks Animation. There’s no denying that this will work like crack on the kids. Their reaction at the screening made that perfectly clear. Adults won’t latch onto this as much as the youngsters they’re bringing, but there is an endearing goofiness to the Minion characters that they may find infectious. They may work better in smaller doses, but they never go so far as becoming an annoying case of a little bit going a long way. That, and co-directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, and writer Brian Lynch do give the older audiences some witty nods to the ’60s era (half of this budget must’ve gone to just the classic rock tunes of the decade alone), along with some absurd Monty Python-esque sight gags such as English bobbies pouring themselves tea in china cups during a police chase or a funny visual reference to the greatest Beatles album ever made.

Most of the heavy lifting here is done by the human characters backing up the Minions. Did we need an A-list cast which include two Oscar winners and an Oscar nominee? Honestly, no. Legends of Oz certainly proved recognizable stars weren’t above phoning it in for a paycheck. More so, February’s The SpongeBob Movie proved you didn’t need recognizable names ’cause the character alone was enough to get every kid in the world to drag their families to the theaters, and the Minion characters carry the same marketability. I can safely make that assumption from the fact that their image is plastered on every store product from cereal to Swiffer dusters. That said, big stars like Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Jon Hamm and Allison Janney don’t waste their chance to have fun and cut loose in the recording booth and provide their characters with a wacky liveliness that helps carry the film.

While it definitely feels like Universal is squeezing every ounce they can out of the title characters for just this one movie, Minions has enough absurd charm and colorful energy to entertain families, even if its the kids that will wind up getting more out of this than their parents. Did we need a Minions spinoff? Probably not, but let’s not worry about that and just be thankful that this didn’t turn out to be the lifeless studio cash cow that it could’ve been.

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