Thursday, July 23, 2015


Filet Minions

I loved Despicable Me a lot. I passed on seeing Despicable Me 2, despite it having the same creative team. It was just one of those cinema-going decisions where I thought the first one might not be so easily duplicated in charm and spirit. Sometimes it's better to leave well enough alone.

Yeah, but that's not how in works in Hollywood, or even France by way of Hollywood. This is why such a logic-fragging scenario can be unblushingly used to produce something like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Until the next Despicable movie shows up, a feature has been made of the Twinkie shaped support staff for the despicable Gru, the Minions.  How could one resist, really?  Transitional shorts subjects have been made (by the feature's director Kyle Balda), and the critters are so easily rendered and their merchandise so simple to produce, that any bottom line can easily be satisfied.

Except for the quality of the movie, maybe.

Sad, too. But Minions suffers from the same fate as other movies featuring supporting characters—they're not strong enough characters to have supported the original movie they appeared in, so—like the penguins of Madagascar appearing in Penguins of Madagascar—there's a drop in the satisfaction of the story-line. Bit-players are good in bits. They outwear their welcome when they're anything more than short-subjects (which is the function of a minion, anyway).
After a minion-chirped version of the Universal logo,* the history of...things evolves over the titles (narrated by Geoffrey Rush—rather needlessly) from single cells to following a fish-hominid out of the water.** From the start, they are lackeys, seeking evil overlords like high-school geeks befriending football players...starting with Cro-Magnons***'ve seen this sequence in the previews. For some reason, not having anything to do with the fact that their horrible bosses are bad, these dominant species each meet a terrible fate, usually due to interference by little yellow ass-kissers. They go into exile in a cave, and three of the...uh...(what the hell ARE they, anyway?)...well, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob are chosen "Hunger Games"-style to find a new boss. Making their way to New York (where else?), they get wind of the super-villainess Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) who impresses the trio with her nefariousness and brio (after appearing at "Villain-Con" being held in...Orlando, Florida (Hmmm. I wonder what else is in Orlando?). She takes in the trio and sets them to work on her heart's desire—stealing the crown of Queen Elizabeth (Jennifer Saunders).
Their attempt to heist the crown jewels doesn't go very well, despite having some unexpected side benefits. Oh, they get the crown, alright. But, in the chaos of a frenetic chase through the streets of London, a frantic Bob reaches for a weapon and finds a handy sword inconveniently stuck in a large stone, which he pulls out and starts to thrash it around to protect himself. Yes, it just happens to be Excalibur (Really? That's still around? And in public?) and his extrication of it makes him King of England...for a brief while.  
This, of course, makes news: a Twinkie becomes King...and it isn't even Prince Charles. Seeing this, Scarlett becomes enraged and she and husband Herb (Jon Hamm) jet over to England and confront the trio. Things become complicated, and for some cartoon reason, Scarlett becomes Queen of England. The boys**** get thrown into the dungeon, where new dungeon-master Herb discovers you can't really torture minions. They're too squishy and boneless like a McNugget.

Okay, so all well and good, right?  No, not really, as here's where the movie falters—casting. The minions are a given—they're voiced in their indecipherable pidgin Spanish/French polyglot patois (pitched and sped-up) by directors Coffin and Richaud. The problem is Sandra Bullock. Don't get me wrong: Sandra Bullock is a terrific actress. But, like George Clooney, her energy is wrong for animation.  She has a low-level intensity that translates well on-screen, but vocally, even at full intensity, and under full manic steam, she still has a laid-back quality that is tough to match in animation. Well, it's not tough to match, it's just dull at 24 frames per second. She's best at the slow-burn, the measured pause, and the subtle gesture—glacial in cartoons (she is also an actress more powerful at withholding information, drawing in a viewer's attention—it's why she can still carry a one-man show like Gravity, but fail when left solely to her vocal qualities). The animators do their best to compensate, making Scarlett Overkill a gesturing, twitching, quick-silver emoter, but it's a case where they are over-compensating, like driving a car 100 mph in first gear. Her co-hort for most of the movie, Jon Hamm, is not much better, although he sports an oily, affected accent that meets the animating team half-way.
Eventually, the movie picks up, though. Bullock starts to match Scarlett's animated energy later on when things get hairier, and the movie references start zipping along just enough to get noticed (Scarlett's palace guards contain a Cimmerian—think Conan— as well as killer-clowns and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and there's one lovely little sequence where the minions create havoc in Westminster Abbey by unscrewing a fairly lethal chandelier by running from a bee. And there's a terrific sequence where Kevin...well, I won't spoil it for you if you decide to go, but let's just say his part gets expanded.

All in all, not great, but it does have moments of's just that...they're so small!

* Music by Jerry Goldsmith, thanks for that.

** In the version I saw, anyway—in some states, I'm sure, God created them during a coffee break (which was good!) around the fifth day.

*** Curiously, not appearing with the dinosaurs—but that would be another cartoon series.

**** Pierre Coffin has stated that the minions are all male because "they're dumb and stupid."  Dumb is one thing, but dumb AND stupid?  That's just dumb!  And stupid!  And redundant!  And repetitive!

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