Directors: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Voices of: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Minions” is part of a new, odd, mostly welcome trend: loopy spinoffs of franchises that are already plenty loopy. Not as strange or funny as “Penguins of Madagascar,” the “Despicable Me” offshoot chases a series that already included octopi guns and shrunken elephants, not to mention its lovable baddie’s vast army of baby babbling yellow whatzits. What “Minions” mostly offers is Minions, which is fine. If all it was was 90 minutes of them reading the phone book, all would be well, especially since they’d do it in a made-up language that’s far cooler than Jodie Foster’s in “Nell” though not nearly as cool as Milla Jovovich’s in “The Fifth Element.”
“Minions” does slightly more than that, though stress “slightly.” It’s the kind of forgettable time-killer that in the 1930s would have been cranked out as the third film in a beloved series, all three made in the same year. It’s technically a prequel, though its critters’ origin story is crammed into the delightful opening, which traces their beginnings to the Earth’s beginnings, with pit-stops as henchmen to T-Rexes, Dracula and Napoleon. The bulk of the story traces their lives pre-the Steve Carell-voiced Gru, namely during the 1960s, chosen for no particular reason, except that someone involved evidently scored a deal on the rights to Beatles songs.
The plot finds three randomly chosen Minions — all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin, who truly deserves a special Oscar — hobnobbing with a less trustworthy supervillain: namely a tricked-out lady baddie named Scarlett Overkill (a game Sandra Bullock). She has a boyfriend (unrecognizably voiced by Jon Hamm) who dresses like either Pete Townshend or John Entwistle circa the mod era — because someone involved really likes The Who. The action takes place in England, for some reason, and at one point there’s an attempt to steal the crown, which then segues into a brief remake of “King Ralph,” only starring Minions, because someone involves likes “King Ralph,” maybe?
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Again, none of this is on the order of the underrated, if similarly forgettable, “Penguins of Madagascar,” which included a sillier plot about an angry octopus (voice of no less than John Malkovich) as well as an even sillier running gag in which famous celebrity names were repurposed as threats (“Nicolas, cage them,” etc.). There’s nothing that witty, and the plot here is zany but never particularly inspired, even when it orchestrates to turn one Minion into a colossus. What it does have — and this truly can’t be stressed enough — is Minions. Usually there are only three of them, but that’s enough, though it periodically checks in on the rest of them, babbling and bumbling as they circumnavigate the globe, only because Minions scouring Australia and India is amusing in and of itself. They could be doing anything and it would be entertaining, and sometimes in “Minions” the bar is really set that low. May the deserved sequel step up its game, though if it doesn’t that’s OK too.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge