The genesis narrative of how the evil tiny yellow creatures partnered with their villainous cohort is told in this fifth chapter of the “Despicable Me” franchise.
If you were keeping score, the fifth installment of the Despicable Me series is a prequel to 2015’s Minions and a sequel to that movie, which in turn was a forerunner to the prior two installments. This demonstrates Hollywood’s commitment to recycling, which is very understandable considering the series’ blockbuster status. Minions: The Rise of Gru promises more of the same, with Gru acting evilly, the Minions acting stupidly, and enough fantastic gags to fly over the heads of its target demographic while preventing their adult chaperones from nodding off.
It would be impossible to asleep while reading this entry, which is the most hectic and action-packed of the bunch. Parents may want to consider taking their kids early in the day in order to prevent disagreements after they watch it at night.
The film is an original story set in 1976 California that recounts how Gru (Steve Carell) became affiliated with the tiny yellow monsters (all beautifully voiced by Pierre Coffin, supplied, one hopes, with enough throat lozenges) and began his journey to villainy. Gru, who is just 11 years old (11 34 to be exact), sees an opportunity when he is offered the chance to join the Vicious 6 after they brutally remove their commander, the elderly Wild Knuckles.
The names of the Vicious 6 members and the voice actors who perform them will amuse adults. The others are the appropriately titled Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the nun-clad Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless), the Swedish roller-skater Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), and the iron-handed Stronghold. The new commander is Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson) (Danny Trejo). The acupuncturist Master Chow, who instructs the Minions in martial arts, is voiced by Michelle Yeoh.
When Belle Bottom discovers that Gru is a youngster, his audition doesn’t go well. It worsens when he takes their Zodiac Stone, an ancient artifact that contains the secret to gaining global dominance. To escape their grasp, he teams up with the Minions and the vengeful Knuckles after discovering that he is suddenly their deadliest enemy. Otto, a cute new Minion, is also there and surprisingly shows himself to be even more stupid than his other minions.
The historical location is used by the filmmakers to great effect, with much of the action taking place in a cool San Francisco. There are many references to the excesses of the 1970s, including Blaxploitation, kung-fu movies, Evel Knievel, and, in one of the more entertaining narrative developments, Pet Rocks. The soundtrack includes a ton of fantastic cover versions of the decade’s songs, like Phoebe Bridgers’ rendition of The Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love” and St. Vincent singing “Funkytown.” The opening titles are a clever parody of those in the Bond films. The Minions’ performance of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is the most priceless musical moment, and should truly be the only one played at Trump events going forward.
The film contains numerous amusing moments, demonstrating, along with The Bob’s Burgers Movie and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, that today’s animated films have the best screenplay. In one memorable sequence, two of the Minions take control of a passenger jet, with obviously disastrous results. Unfortunately, the final act contains a slew of extended battle and pursuit sequences that quickly fatigue, as is so often the case with this type of material.
Carell, who must adopt a higher-pitched yet amusingly accented voice to play the evil Gru, who manages to be lovely while still acting at his worst, remains to be hilarious. The talking Minions will continue to make kids laugh, especially when they show off their cartoon bottoms. However, they could have encountered worse role models.