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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Minions movie review: the curtain of yellow mystique falls

Minions yellow light

I love the Minions and I thought they totally deserved their own movie. But I was wrong. Or, at least, this movie is not the movie they deserve.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Despicable Me

I’m “biast” (con): …but hate Despicable Me 2

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Don’t pick at it, your mother said. Leave it alone, it’ll get infected.

And did you listen to your mother? Of course you didn’t. And neither did Pierre Coffin. His Despicable Me was a perfect movie, and told a story that was perfectly wrapped up by its end. Did he leave it alone? No. He had to go back and pick at the perfection until it had unraveled into the festering mess that was Despicable Me 2, which upended everything that was lovely and wonderful about its predecessor to the point where we had to wonder whether he even understood what had made the first movie so great. And then he still couldn’t leave it alone, and he picked at it some more, and now we have Minions.

I confess: I love the Minions — they were the only tolerable thing about DP2, that’s for certain — and I seem to recall thinking after DP1 that they totally deserved their own movie. But I was wrong. Or, at least, the movie they’ve now gotten is not the movie they deserve.

Oh, this is fine for little kids. Minions is mostly devoid of the crap that drives me crazy about movies that are aimed at little kids, like fart jokes and crotch injuries. The little kids will laugh at the slapstick antics of the small yellow blobs and have a fine time, probably. But I am not a little kid, and I do not write for little kids. The things that are a little bit off-putting about this movie are not things that will register with the little kids, but they registered with me.

Turns out, the Minions are better off without a backstory. Their mystery was part of their charm. Their minion-ness is essential to their humor. And none of that is present here.

The first thing that Coffin — joined here by co-director Kyle Balda (The Lorax) and screenwriter Brian Lynch (Puss in Boots, Hop) — should not have picked at is the biological evolution of the Minions. The movie opens with a grand history of the race, starting with their appearance as tiny one-yellow-celled creatures floating in the primordial seas through their walking up onto land in pretty much the form we see them in now. Cartoondom may have a long fan tradition of examining the sexuality of cartoon characters — see the seminal paper “Bugs Bunny in a Dress Makes Me Feel Kinda Funny” by Garth Algar, PhD — but now we are forced to consider how the Minions evolved when they are all apparently male. At least, they all seem to have male names; the narrator of the history lesson (Geoffrey Rush: The Book Thief, Green Lantern) rattles off a long list of Minion names — all male (and English-language names to boot, but that’s another rant) — for some reason that makes no sense at all unless it’s to reassure us that, yes, all Minions are male. And yet they also have sexual attraction: we witness one Minion hitting on a yellow fire hydrant. So the Minions must all be gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (or with being hydrant-oriented), but that tends to hinder reproduction without technological assistance.

It’s not like I want to think about this stuff, but the movie forced me to.

The second thing that Coffin should have left alone because it might get infected is the cultural history of the Minions once they had achieved their current physical form: as a race driven to find the biggest, baddest villains to serve and worship until accidentally killing them with their bumbling overenthusiasm. First it was T. rex, then it was the Egyptian pharaohs, and so on, right on up until Napoleon… at which point the Minions became depressed as a culture and retreated to the Arctic (or the Antarctic; it’s not clear). And it’s not like I want to think about this either, but the movie forced me to: What, no Hitler for the Minions to worship and serve and kill? No Stalin? No Pol Pot? They could have done us all a huge favor and not gone into retirement.

I know, I know: This is a kids’ movie, you can’t bring Hitler into it! I’m not saying it should have, and I get why the movie just skips right over the war-torn 19th and 20th centuries. I am saying that getting this specific about the Minions’ backstory makes it uncomfortably weird for those of us over the age of six.

When the Minions emerge from their depression and decide to go in search of a new Big Boss, it is 1968 and apparently Richard Nixon isn’t good enough for them. So Minion scouts Kevin, Bob, and Stuart (all voiced by Coffin) settled on the world’s first female supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (the voice of Sandra Bullock: Gravity, The Heat)… who is a pretty standard cartoon villain who doesn’t commit genocide or hang out with Henry Kissinger at all. She evil-plans eventually to take over the British monarchy, which might be villainous but is hardly a route to power, but which does allow lots of 1960s-era poking fun at the British. Pierre Coffin is French, so basically you’re watching a lot of ethnic-humor payback happening here. Some of it is even mildly amusing; it’s not exactly the height of cruelty to suggest that the Brits drink a lot of tea.

Minions on the whole is mildly cute, but the Minions kinda don’t work as the heroes, which is the role they end up in. It demands that they behave in an un-Minion-like manner that is entirely contrary to why we fell in love with them in the first place. Can’t we just let Minions be minions? And not know so much about them? Please?


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Minions for its representation of girls and women.


yellow light 2.5 stars

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Minions (2015)
US/Can release: Jul 10 2015
UK/Ire release: Jun 26 2015

MPAA: rated PG for action and rude humor
BBFC: rated U (mild comic violence)

viewed in 3D IMAX
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Aaron Jones

    Aw, that’s too bad. Everything I’ve seen regarding this movie makes me laugh, though I too had my doubts about what kind of story would be told and how it could be sustained for feature-length interest.

  • MikeM

    Oh c’mon admit it. You were just dying to give it a big YELLOW light! Lol.

  • As a resident of Florida, I am at best ecstatic that they have Orlando as a wretched hive of scum and tourism, able to host a Villain Con with nary a concern. I think the filmmakers have been to one packed MegaCon too many (heh).

  • Have you seen the film, though? It’s not a recognizable Orlando.

  • I haven’t seen it yet, but I live just outside of Orlando, have been there many times for Villain Con, uh MegaCon… if the movie is in 1968, Orlando won’t be a real city and recognizable anyway because Disney hasn’t opened Disney World yet and turn the area into Tourism Central.
    My parents met and married in the Orlando area back in 1966. From what they tell me it was all sleepy pre-suburban citrus groves as far as the eye could see. A couple of military bases and a small state university (UCF).

  • If I am down on Orlando and ragging on it often it is because I grew up in the Tampa Bay area, and there is a civic rivalry between the two metros. It’s kinda like New Yawk vs. Bawston, except not as cinematic.

  • We don’t even see that in the movie.

  • So they don’t show the achingly bad traffic on I-4?! Well, if they did, the movie would end up being 4 hrs long…

  • deering24

    “…apparently Richard Nixon isn’t good enough for them.”

    One suspects 1) he had too much good luck to get accidentally killed; 2) even Minions have their standards. :)

  • lilyboosh

    Not a fan of these movies myself but it really rattled me that, while the maleness was implied before, now they are all just firmly male. Period. It’s like characters that are supposed to appeal to all children HAVE to be male. Kevin, Bob and Stuart. It just never ends.

  • Jennie Batra

    so freaking what? Im a damn girl, but im so sick of these ranting femi-u-Know-whats who have to find sexism in everything, much like the race-baitors do. So they’re male? Who cares? Alvin and the chipmunks were male…Tom and Jerry was male. We survived right? Guess what? If the film is written by men, the leads are going to be men. Get over it. Its a cartoon, for crying out loud. So tired of the PC libtards These Days.

  • Jennie Batra

    Its a film for 6 Year olds. Nobody cares what u think. Sheesh. I didnt really like the film, but really? Hitler? And youre worried bout the minions’ sexuality? Really? And u dont like that they have ENglish names (though its an American film, what should they have Greek names?) Some people have A Lot of Time on their hands to overanalyze “Minions”. I just found it boring….im not the least bit offended by it, however. Thankfully, Im not a PC libtard.

  • Bluejay

    Hey, sincere question: any chance you can say “I disagree with this review, and here’s why” without going straight to personal insults? We try to keep things civil around here, even when we disagree, but that gets hard to do when you start right out the gate with “PC libtards.” You wanna try starting over?

  • Jennie Batra

    No problem. I was just reacting to what i read. I disagree with the above person because they are taking a silly, meaningless film like this and trying to find sexist overtones. I mean, Im so tired of PC “liberals” (is that better?) These Days, who cant even let a film meant for preschoolers be, without trying to make a political statement. Even liberal icon Bill Maher recently stated how tired he was of PC. Better? LOL

  • lilyboosh

    “So freaking what” if there are people like you who tacitly agree with the status quo and believe that just because they are/were ok with something it means that everyone should. You are not the first cultural conservative and thankfully you’re not all of us, or progress would never have been made. I’m sure you think we’re just fine with all those received white characters too, why agitate for change right?
    You like the minions movie? Good for you. You like the exclusionary status quo and the sea of male characters and stories? Well, a lot of us sure don’t and we’re going to say it. And while I would love to have more women writers, a good male writer can write a good female character too, we’re not separate species you know?
    “PC Libtard”.. still laughing at that one. Going to call me a “SJW” next?

  • Bluejay

    Okay, some follow-up questions. What’s PC and what’s not PC? Does PC just mean “ideas that I don’t agree with”? And you’re against films that make political statements… but doesn’t everything make a political statement? I assume you think films about “girl power” are making a political statement. But doesn’t a film about “boy power” also make a political statement? Even a film that you might consider “normal” is actually making the statement, “this is what SHOULD be normal.” That’s political.

    And don’t you think we should ESPECIALLY discuss the messages in films for kids? They’re not “just” films for kids; they’re more important BECAUSE they’re films for kids! Kids are more impressionable and pick up messages more easily, right? So don’t you think that means movies for kids are worthy of discussion and analysis?

  • Your bile is not welcome here.

  • I’ve banned her. Don’t expect a response.

  • FYI, she’s been banned.

  • Bluejay

    I figured you would. I was just curious as to whether I could get an actual reasonable comment out of her before you did. Oh well. :-)

  • I have excellent reason to doubt that you would.

  • David C-D

    I did google “Bugs Bunny in a Dress Makes Me Feel Kinda Funny”, was disappointed I couldn’t even find the abstract. Another obstacle to self-education via. the internet!

  • bronxbee

    wasn’t that from Wayne’s World? i think Garth said it, yes?

  • David C-D

    Aha. Wayne’s World is one of the few movies I ever bailed out in the middle of… I knew someday I would live to regret it.

  • Yup.

  • JENNIE

    What i wrote was correct. There are no films about boy power….just boys being boys. I am tired of political statements. Watch the damn cartoon and enjoy yourself without your PC crap.

  • JENNIE

    Really? So thats why Im still here? And thats your answer? Ban anyone who disagrees? LOL, typical. Why am I not surprised? STupid liberals

  • JENNIE

    But guess what? Im still here. Go play baseball in Toronto, u bluejay. I hate liberals. They should all be Executed.

  • JENNIE

    really?

  • JENNIE

    Too bad. Im here

  • JENNIE

    Yes, nothing wrong with white males and Im tired of the assault on them. Get this straight..men rule. Im fine with the status quo, only I’d prefer to go back to The 1940s when freaking bitches actually listened to their men. Tired of liberals like u. Tired of PC. Listen to your man or get smacked. I’m all for it. Guess what? Men fought The Civil War. Men invented the planes, cars, computers, etc. Men do 90% of things that are worthwhile. I Love men, And I Know that i am not 1 so i dont pretend to be. Stupid fucking feminsts

  • JENNIE

    Tired of all the liberal wackos

  • amanohyo

    Sure, but what about all the liberal Dots? You never seem to get tired of them do you? Do you!? Smells like teen double standards!!! Now who’s being politically correct? Maybe you should start with the JENNIE in the mirror? Maybe ask her to change her ways?
    Seriously though JENNIE, girl talk for reals, we wackos sometimes get tired of completely normal bastions of truth, justice, and The American Way who heroically post angry tirades under movie reviews. So very, very tired. OMG, common ground! That wasn’t so hard was it? #bipartisanship
    (BTW I’m writing a NSFW fanfic about a sexually confused member of an irregular military force who has torrid affair with a retired aircraft carrier – I’m naming the soldier JENNIE in your honor, I hope you don’t mind. The title of the story is “Bi-partisan: Ship it Hard.”)

  • rurugby

    It was so, so bad. I felt bad I spent the money to see in in the theater. WIthout a story about it minions saying nonsense gets very, very old.

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