Speculative Fiction Saturday: Minions

minions posterWell, I’m going to have to say that I honestly didn’t think that I was going to like this movie, but unlike CHAPPiE from last week, I’m going to give this a thumbs up. I explained in my review of the Despicable Me movies how I figured that the Minions were, at best, side characters that somehow outshined the main characters of that series including Gru.

I will have to say that the Minions movie would seem like a cash-in from Universal and Illumination Entertainment, and it is. It doesn’t look self-aware of this fact, but it really should be.

I remember when I saw the first Despicable Me film, I just assumed that the Minions were some kind of failed clone experiment or something from Gru, to make thoughtless slaves for his evil plans. Apparently, the Minions have been around since the beginning of time, and their purpose in life is to serve stronger and villainous figures. However, the Minions are not terribly intelligent, and they are often the reason why their masters fail.

The last master, which appears to be Napoleon, of all people, doesn’t end well, and the French army chases them to some snowy place, presumably the Himalayas. The only reason why I know this is because some abominable snowmen show up, but this doesn’t work out for the Minions.

Fortunately, three specific Minions named Stuart, Kevin, and Bob decide to leave the tribe in order to find a new master and a home. What makes it interesting is that they arrive in New York in 1968, and the film does an excellent job replicating the time period. Eventually, they hear of a convention in Orlando called Villain-con, and, after hitchhiking with a family of bank robbers that could easily be its own film, the Minions find their new master, a powerful supervillain named Scarlet Overkill.

I will have to say that Scarlet is played by Sandra Bullock, who is the big celebrity voice in this thing, which is not really needed. She does a pretty good job being evil and at the same time very wounded as well. It is pretty clear that she wants power because she wasn’t given it at a young age, but never questioned why she wanted it in the first place.

But this isn’t a film to probe someone’s past pains, and sadly, Scarlet’s husband Herb, played by Jon Hamm, isn’t well developed at all. Herb is dressed like a reject from the Monkees, and he’s kind of the tech genius in the film. It is interesting that Herb and Scarlet seem happy with each other, so I guess there is no lack of love making them evil.

One of the things I mentioned in my Despicable Me review is that this world presented is full of super-villains that are straight out of comic books and James Bond films. However, there are not any super heroes in this world, but this does not mean that there isn’t virtue. What makes the Minions funny is they are essentially pure creatures trying to survive in this very evil world.

Okay, that might be giving this film too much credit. Minions is really a comedy of errors, of the Minions being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and occasionally being at the right place at the right time. One chase scene leads to the other, often with a montage in between. Minions reminds me of a Warner Brothers cartoon, and I always felt there was a heavy Chuck Jones influence in the Despicable Me series. I always loved the Looney Tunes for their comic simplicity and imagination, and Minions takes full advantage of it.

So, yeah, it is not Oscar material, but it doesn’t have to be. There are scenes here that are pretty darn funny. I watched this film with a group of college kids and shorter kids and there is a scene where the Minions start singing their version of “Hair”. The audience was silent, because they didn’t get the joke. It actually took me a while before I figured out what they were satirizing, but once I got it, I loved it.

This is what works about the Minions, they are in their world and they often don’t let the audience in. Their entire language is a series of gibberish that is never given subtitled, but like Inside Out, it isn’t about a literal translation, but feelings. You understand an idea of what the Minions are saying, and you don’t need to know the specifics.

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