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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, swarmed the screen in "Minions" this summer. As candidates for center stage, they are seemingly ill suited. They are slavishly - if rarely competently - devoted lackeys. They are underlings by both definition and their lack of height.
They don't speak intelligibly. To be fair, this 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 "pi§ata" are their kind of words.
Their unsuitability for the movie's lead role, or just about anything else, is much of the fun of "Minions." The film largely succeeds in its simple mission: More Minions!
It is directed by Pierre Coffin who co-directed "Despicable Me" one and two and also voices the Minions. It is also directed by 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. It stretches back across eons and begins with them literally walking out of the sea.
But the evolution stops there. We see that, for thousands of years they've been letting down their evil masters. Those include a Tyrannosaurus Rex that accidentally is tipped into a volcano. And there's Dracula, whom they excitedly wake with a birthday cake and wide-open blinds.
The Minions have their own Ice Age, however. They end up leaderless in Antarctica. After a few hundred years, the joy of snowball fights has begun to dim. So 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. It's a convention celebrating the likes of Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), an evil world-conqueror in a beehive hairdo. The trio accidentally wins a job in Overkill's entourage. They're soon trapped in her plan to take the British throne, along with Overkill's inventor, Herb (Jon Hamm).
There are, it should be noted, more determined seats of power to set one's diabolical sights on. But this is 1960s London. That makes for a colorful backdrop.
The irreverent slapstick unfortunately gives way to the kind of action set pieces that have now even spoiled children's movies. The boasting, though never serious, is still loud enough to drown out the best thing the movie has going for it. And that's 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? They mumble 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 mostly knocks out misty-eyed adults, "Minions" is a different beast. This one's for the kids.
"Minions" is a Universal Pictures release. It is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "action and rude humor." Running time: 91 minutes. Rated: Two and a half stars out of four.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What does the author mean by "minions are a stand-in for kids?"
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