Minions: The Rise of Gru
As the holiday season approaches, it’s good to know about a movie that a bunch of family members can enjoy. Based on how much we, a couple of adults, liked this movie, I nominate Minions: The Rise of Gru. (Screenplay by Matthew Fogel, directed by Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, and Jonathan Del Val.)
The previous Minions movie (also hilarious) was set in 60s England; this one moves to the suburbs of the 1970s, where Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is an adorable little boy, almost twelve years old, with minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) for friends and henchmen and quasi-parents.
He’s trying out for the Vicious Six, a super-villain group with a bunch of weirdly amusing concepts and a star-studded voice cast, including Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Lucy Lawless. (His mother is voiced by Julie Andrews! Michelle Yeoh later shows up to save the little yellow dudes!)
The sequence where Otto (the fourth named minion, after Kevin, Stuart, and Bob) trades the Maguffin for a pet rock had me laughing out loud, just because his innocent happiness is so outsized. There’s a ton of period detail: rotary phones, the Jaws movie, pogo sticks, 8-track tapes. The soundtrack is also wonderful, with everything from the Carpenters to the Ramones and the Rolling Stones.
There’s a plot — the Vicious Six have turned on their founder, who seeks revenge — but really, it’s about watching how funny the minions can be when they’re trying to rescue “Mini Boss”. Given their polyglot babble (at one point they have to get to San Panbisco), it’s all about body language and slapstick and creative thinking in demented ways. The plots and vehicles and costumes are all ridiculous, and that’s part of the charm. They’re basically indestructible super-powered toddlers, and they had us enjoying every silly thing they’d do next.
The final 20 minutes or so of the movie unfortunately turn into a big superhero-style fight with magical transformations, which is a different direction than I would have chosen, but I bet the kids loved it.
There are two additional mini-movies (we used to call them cartoons) on the Blu-ray. The first, “Post Modern Minion”, is not subtle in its criticism of fads and art trends and the fickleness of critical attention. I liked it. “Minions and Monsters” has the little yellow people playing a role-playing game.
There are a bunch of additional extras, including an extended scene, outtakes (which I’d describe more as footage of the vocal actors), character profiles, a featurette on how the animation process works, and my favorite, a short piece on the influence of the 70s. There are also how-tos on drawing and crafts (make a minion hideout!).