The Despicable Me series is one that I've had mixed feelings on. I didn't watch the first film because it wasn't really my cup of tea and I found Despicable Me 2 to be just an average family film, no more, no less. The only thing that really stood out to me were the Minions, who were the best thing in Despicable Me 2. The success of the Minions in permeating pop culture meant that a spin-off focused on them was inevitable, but with this there was the risk of over-exposure which could make the film irritating after a while. Thankfully, that isn't the case. I don't think there's been a film this year that I've laughed at more so far than Minions.
The main plot of the film takes place in 1968, 42 years before the events of Despicable Me. After centuries of failing to properly serve their villain bosses, the minions have retreated into a hideaway in Antarctica (even though they should be in the Arctic Circle as they went there from Russia). However, the minions become dissatisfied with their life and three of the minions: Kevin; Stuart and Bob, head out to find a new boss. Their search leads them to Villain-Con in Orlando where they become the henchmen for Scarlett Overkill, the first female supervillain, who recruits them to steal the crown jewels but, due to mishaps by the minions, Scarlett turns against them. Now any film of this type lives or dies on whether or not you find the main characters funny. In most cases with giving comic relief characters the spotlight, the characters become incredibly annoying as there is no straight man for them to play off which results in the humour failing. Thankfully, that is not the case here. As stated earlier, I was laughing all the way through and that is largely due to the decision to only focus on three minions. If the film focused on the entire tribe of minions throughout then it would have gotten annoying but limiting the focus, only showing the rest of the minions in short bursts, works wonders for the film, along with letting us identify the three main minions much easier due to the difference. It also helps that Kevin does kind of act as the straightman to Stuart and Bob, and there is a strong sense of comradery between the three as the film goes on. That said, despite the film being hilarious and the main plot working wonders for the minions, the rest of the characters don't really feel that defined and the plot itself feels a bit rushed, especially towards the end when the elements that make it a prequel to Despicable Me come into play.
Even with the characters being fairly thinly veiled, the performances themselves are brilliant. Pierre Coffin does an excellent job playing the Minions themselves. The language that they speak is a mixture of all languages (mainly Italian, French and Spanish) and this means there is just enough for you to understand what the characters are saying to each other, combined with the character animation for the minions. The big celebrity voice in this film is Sandra Bullock as Scarlett Overkill and, whilst the character motivation is pretty thin, the character herself is a lot of fun mainly due to the performance by Bullock. There's this sense of glee she has over what she does, relishing the chance to be bad and Bullock sounds like she had a lot of fun voicing the character. Jon Hamm meanwhile is, in my opinion, the funniest human character in the film as Scarlett's husband/inventor Herb. Hamm gives the character this laid back, almost stoner-esque vibe that is a lot of fun to listen to and is the perfect contrast to the vibrant, energetic performances of Coffin and Bullock. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney are also a lot of fun as the Nelsons, the parents in a family of criminals Kevin, Stuart and Bob hitch a ride to Villain-Con with, even if they're not in the film enough, the same being true of Jennifer Saunders as Queen Elizabeth II. Steve Coogan and Hiroyuki Sanada meanwhile are completely wasted, with the wasting of Coogan being the most egregious. When I first saw his name in the trailers I thought that he would be reprising his role as Silas Ramsbottom from Despicable Me 2 but here, he plays 2 characters (a scientist at Villain-Con, who does get one of the best black comedy moments in the film, and a guard at the Tower of London) and whilst his performances are funny and he gives them his all, there was no reason for Coogan to be cast over professional voice actors for such minor parts. The final main member of the cast then is Geoffrey Rush who narrates the film and he was the perfect choice. There's this calm, serene quality to his voice, like a parent reading a bedtime story to a kid, which, when mixed with a playful quality in there, fits perfectly with the tone of the film.
The music meanwhile is another standout element of the film. The actual score of the film is decent enough, even if many of the musical cues are lifted from the mobile game Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, but it's the soundtrack of the film which boosts it and is probably one of the best soundtracks since Guardians of the Galaxy. Since the film is set in 1968, you get a lot of era appropriate pop and rock music, with some of the best music in those genres coming out around that time, so you've got artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Kinks, The Who and (obviously) Donovan's Mellow Yellow. The music covers done by the Minions themselves are also a lot of fun and were some of the biggest laughs in the film, with these including The Beatles' Revolution and the theme to The Monkees.
Finally, there's the actual quality of the animation and I have to say that it's top notch. The recreations of 1960's New York and London is excellent (even if it does get the currency used in the UK at the time wrong) and there's a lot of great background details that create some of the best gags in the film (a lot of which are aimed towards an older audience). The animation for the minions themselves remains as great as it was in Despicable Me 2, allowing for a wide range of physical comedy options to be opened up, especially near the end of the film in a torture chamber and at the start of the film, showing the interactions between the minions and their former bosses throughout history, from dinosaurs to Napoleon. The action sequences meanwhile are brilliantly animated, having this great kinetic quality to them, maintaining a constant sense of scene geography and making great use of the different gadgets, with the colours of all of them popping out throughout the film.
Overall, I had a blast with Minions. Sure the characters aren't that developed and the story is a bit thin but it more than succeeds where it needs to and that's in the comedy. The animation and the voice acting help to create some of the funniest moments in an animated film that I've seen this year and there is just enough of the minions themselves to stop them from becoming over-exposed, although I do think that this should be the end of the Despicable Me series.
My Rating: 4/5