Minions: The Rise of Gru (PG, 87 minutes)
My son's cinema-going life started around the time of the 2010 animated comedy Despicable Me.
As a film critic assigned to cover it, and with my son now six and me hoping to be able to concentrate the whole way through the film, I now had a little film critic companion, in the film's target demographic, and it changed the way I saw the film.
That film was about an evil genius named Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, and I though it was alright, but my little pal almost fell off his chair laughing every time Gru's little yellow minion monsters came on the screen.
I've never been a physical comedy fan, and these "minions" were pure Laurel and Hardy, pure Charlie Chaplin, all falling over and hitting each other and my six-year-old loved it.
He was an astute judge of the pop culture audience, because Despicable Me has had three sequels, and the Minions themselves got a 2015 stand-alone movie and a handful of TV specials.
With this latest film, Minions: The Rise of Gru, the franchise owns up to its strengths - that the human characters are the least interesting thing, and it focuses on the funny little yellow blobs.
This film is set before Despicable Me, when Gru (Steve Carell) is high-school-aged, although being a genius, he's not actually attending school and has set up an evil genius lair in the basement of his mother's house.
Gru dreams of joining the famous group of bad guys called Vicious 6, kind of a Justice League of evil baddies with members like Nun Chuck (Lucy Lawless), Jean Clawed (Jean Claude Van Damme) and Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson).
The Six have recently become five with the retirement of their founding member Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), and they're advertising for a new member of the troupe.
Gru's loveable minions have been living in the basement of his mother's home, but he asks them not to accompany him to his evil audition in case their antics ruin his chances. But the minions have separation anxiety and do so anyway.
Lucky for Gru, because the interview doesn't go so well and he ends up stealing a magical amulet from the Vicious Six, who vow to destroy him.
Meanwhile, Gru gets kidnapped by the retired bad guy Wild Knuckles, and his minions come to save the day.
That sounds like an awful lot of plot in Matthew Fogel's screenplay, and it is, but it's really just the scaffolding for a series of minions high-jinks. The stakes feel low, and many of Fogel's narrative set-ups resolve with a level of complexity on par with its primary school audience's levels of gullibility and naiveté.
The voice work on this film is serviceable. Steve Carell does his European accented Gru voice in a higher pitch due to Gru's young age. There're some huge names doing voice work, though I'd say not necessarily contributing much along the way, except for Michelle Yeoh's Master Chow, a Chinese acupuncturist who teachers some of the minions the art of Kung Fu.
The animators build interesting characters, and I particularly liked Alan Arkin's Wild Knuckles, who looks like John Goodman after he lost all his weight. I sat through the credits just to check that it wasn't actually Goodman.
Director Kyle Balda has been at the helm of a number of others in this franchise and he sure knows what his audiences want. The kids in my sessions were laughing out loud and the parents seemed to be enjoying it too.
The adorable animations continue through the credits.
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