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Minions, for those not in the know, are those inexplicably popular sidekicks from the Despicable Me movies – yellow guys wearing goggles and overalls, kinda shaped like packing peanuts, speaking in a weird, vaguely European-sounding gibberish? And while the “inexplicably popular” part explains why they have their own spin-off movie, the speaking in gibberish part would seem like at least a moderate hurdle to building a big budget kid’s franchise out of them and them alone.
The initial, somewhat clunky solution to this is to tell the origin story of the minions – they emerged from the primordial ooze fully formed with their two main characteristics already present: a desire to serve the biggest, baddest guy around, and the ability to make sure they messed up the plans of said bad guy – via voice-over, with Geoffrey Rush’s dulcet tones narrating their journey from dinosaur times through henchmen service for Pharaohs, Dracula and Napoleon, before creating their own hideaway in the snowy wastes (thus avoiding them serving any more recent real-life bad guys).
But when boredom takes hold of the tribe, three minions – Stuart, Kevin and Bob – head out into the world to find a new super villain to lead them. Slightly surprisingly it turns out the year is now 1968, and after some adventures in hippie-era New York they discover all the serious villain action is happening down in Orlando, Florida at a secret bad guy convention where Scarlet Overkill (the voice of Sandra Bullock) is the main attraction. What follows is mostly manic and generally makes sense (at the time), as Overkill takes them to the UK to steal the Crown Jewels while the rest of the Minions tribe decides to follow them out into the world. The one-off jokes are strong, the three lead minions have enough character to hold up the central story, the animation does the job without being overly impressive, and if the whole thing doesn’t quite reach the heights of this year’s other animated sidekick spin-off, the recent Madagascar side project featuring the nutty penguins… well, those guys got to talk. When you’re inexplicably popular, sometimes you don’t have to try quite as hard: this is always entertaining, but there’s not a lot here that sticks.