The pill-shaped minions from the Despicable Me movies are such popular characters that their creators could have delivered raw footage of the yellow guys just hanging out and jabbering. And while there are aspects of their new animated comedy Minions, directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, that offer this sort of narrative looseness, an attempt has been made to tell a story.
In fact, part of it is the whole story — an origin tale in which we learn, with helpful narration from Geoffrey Rush, how the minions came to be. Like us, the minions began as single-cell organisms in the ocean and evolved into land-dwellers with better problem-solving skills. (Let us pause to pity creationists, who will have to make up another Where Minions Come From story.)
Early on, the minions sort out that their purpose is to serve villains, and we see them working their way through history helping T. Rex, Egyptian pharaohs, vampires, Napoleon. But when there is a lengthy lull in suitable employers, the minions take to an ice cave to grow forlorn. Until three intrepid minions — Kevin, Bob and Stuart — go in search of a new master to serve.
They wash up in America 1968 — it is here they adopt the denim overalls — and have the luck to wind up at a villain's conference, where the world's greatest super-villain, Scarlet Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock) is looking for help. She flies them back to her groovy pad in London, and tasks them with stealing Queen Elizabeth's crown.
But plot, schmot: It's all about the minions being adorable, and walking their patented fine line between clever and bumbling. This iteration will never be as fresh and delightful as when we first met the minions, but even in their familiarity, it's hard to hate on them. The jokes and sight gags are near-constant, and the film offers top-notch digital animation.
Some of the giant bags of money earned from the first two successful films has gone toward the soundtrack, which includes plenty of classic rock tracks (including The Beatles, Donovan, Rolling Stones and, surely lost on many under 50, the title track from Hair). And some has been spent to jet-set the minions around the globe — the Himalayas, Australia, Orlando! None of it quite disguises that the villainous Scarlet is a bit of dud, never quite gelling into a worthy foil for the minions. But Minions is merely a prequel, and we can relax knowing that in time, the little yellow dudes will find their dream villain.