Illumination’s Despicable Me franchise has dominated the culture since the very first film, released in 2010. The story of likable supervillain with a heart of gold, Gru, and his adoptive daughters has spawned two sequels and a third on the way in a matter a few short years. What has truly wedged itself within pop culture is Gru’s adorable, gibberish-speaking companions, the Minions. Their spinoff prequel film, released in 2015, grossed over $1 billion, despite the film’s overall lack of quality. Audiences around the world just can’t get enough of these little dudes, hence their second spinoff film, a direct prequel to Despicable Me, showcasing their initial time with Gru. If the first Minions film felt more like a lifeless exercise in branding, The Rise of Gru is more in line with the irresistible Despicable Me films.
The year is 1976, the Minions, namely Kevin, Stuart and Bob, alongside the legion of banana-obsessed little tikes have only just become acquainted with their boss, Gru (Steve Carell, reprising his role, despite the character being a child), Gru is just 11 years old, and dreams of becoming a world-renowned supervillain. His favorite supervillain supergroup, going by the name of the Vicious Six, consisting of Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless), Jean-Clawed, a villain with a robotic lobster claw (Jean-Claude Van Damme, in a joke so good I almost didn’t put it in this review), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), Stronghold (the great, Danny Trejo) and the leader of the group, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). When the Six force out Wild Knuckles, they interview for the new opening. Gru, managing to nab an interview, is quickly rejected. In a bit of revenge, Gru decides to steal a precious stone from the Six, leading to Gru getting kidnapped. His only hope of rescue comes in the form of his bumbling Minions.
Returning Minions director Kyle Balda maintains the franchise’s visual panache with an abundance of hyperactive colors and cartoonish gags. This is the kind of film that prioritizes sight gags over plot development, which is fine when the gags comes so fast and are largely amusing, if not genuinely witty. The seemingly never-ending comedy of errors continues to find enough zany, witty avenues to keep these characters from growing stale.
The Minions hijinks are as consistently silly and playful as ever, with the writers changing up the scenarios and locations just enough. Michelle Yeoh, coming off her best work to date in this spring’s sleeper hit Everything Everywhere All at Once, voices Master Chow, who teaches the Minions the art of Kung Fu. There’s a killer sequence involving the Minions taking over as Pilots — and even the flight attendant — of an airplane with guffawing results. Discovering the early rapport between Gru and the gang is also quite entertaining. The soundtrack fit with classic 70’s funk and soul music, including covers by artists like Tame Impala, Brockhampton, H.E.R. and St. Vincent amongst others, is well-produced and isn’t as forced or as obvious as some other films from Illumination.
Despite running at a thankfully brief 89 minute runtime, Minions: The Rise of Gru can sometimes border on irritation with its near-endless barrage of visual and aural noise. Some sequences play out like they’re operating on a sensory level of an 11. Even if the film is never boring and delivers amusement on a consistent basis, it does all feel very slight.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is short on plot and can be occasionally cacophonous, but has enough consistent laughs, zaniness and visual inventiveness to keep audiences, young and old, entertained. It’s the kind of film that should inspire giggles from every family member.