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The minions have taken the world by storm. Since their first appearance in 2010’s Despicable Me, the little yellow sidekicks have been wreaking havoc absolutely everywhere. The minion-mania knows no boundaries: t-shirts, lunch boxes, fancy dress costumes and fart guns have inundated the world. When Despicable Me 2, in which the minions featured more prominently, grossed nearly a billion dollars and became one of the biggest animated movies of all time, the inevitable standalone feature was already in the works. Now they are finally back, sans Steve Carell as Gru, with an epic quest for villainous employers and many, many bananas.
The funniest part of the movie comes right at the beginning. In what is essentially an extended version of the trailer, a montage tracks the creatures’ many attempts to serve the forces of evil through history. Unfortunately, their many masters have a tendency to meet an early end. After accidentally firing Napoleon Bonaparte from a cannon, the minions find themselves unemployed once more and put down roots in an icy cave where they live in banana-less dullness until three “heroic” volunteers agree to venture into the world and find a new boss for the tribe. Their names? Kevin, Stuart and Bob.
The opening montage is worth the price of admission alone. The gags come flying thick and fast as Geoffrey Rush’s narration guides us through the centuries past dinosaurs, ancient Egyptians and vampires. The random silliness and adorable immaturity that define the minions return in a heartbeat. Once the film (inevitably) settles into a more conventional narrative, a lot of this energy is lost. Kevin, Stuart and Bob run ashore in 1968 in New York City and meet supervillain Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock). The action then shifts to a caricature of London and a stereotypical heist for the queen’s crown.
Fortunately, there are just about enough funny jokes to sustain the generic plotline. If you like the little yellow beans, you will laugh all the way through Minions. There is something about their high-pitched Franco-Italo-Japanese jibberish (created and voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) that simply strikes a chord with small and less small children. Their slapstick shenanigans also owe a debt to the era of silent cinema or modern physical comedy such as Mr. Bean. One of the minions even clutches on a teddy bear.
The period setting furthermore gives the filmmakers the opportunity to address the parents in two ways: uncountable hippie-jokes (lava lamp-gun!) and a classic soundtrack. The movie opens with Happy Together by The Turtles and features The Doors, The Kinks, and The Who.
Overall, Minions has to be seen as a relative success. It isn’t quite as much fun as Penguins of Madagascar, the equivalent sidekick spin-off from the Madagascar franchise, but it’s a fun romp and proof that some silly yellow things in dungarees can carry a feature film. This will almost certainly not the last we will see of the minions, not least because Despicable Me 3 is already in development.