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‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ Review: A Messy, Madcap Sequel Strictly for the Kids

The adorable, inscrutable roly-poly yellow henchmen return for a '70s-styled adventure designed to appeal to the younger set.

Illumination's "Minions: The Rise of Gru"

“Minions: The Rise of Gru”


The problem at the heart of the bizarrely dense “Despicable Me” mythology — five feature films, another on the way, fifteen short films, books, video games, and even a theme park ride — has always been its true strength: for a series about a nefarious supervillain, it’s adorable. And while the grumbly Gru (voiced by Steve Carell throughout the franchise) turning away from his long-running bad guy schemes in favor of family and fun has made for some delightful, silly features in the past, as the series attempts to mine his younger years, things are getting oddly complicated.

Well, complicated if you’re an adult who still keenly remembers the charms of the first film in the franchise, 2010’s “Despicable Me,” which followed that bad-guy-to-good-guy storyline with ease. One and done, right? Never! While the first film, a candy-colored computer animated offering that served as Illumination Entertainment’s debut feature, eventually spawned two of its own sequels, the creative returns have been diminishing. Thank goodness then for the series’ real breakout stars: the Minions, chattering little roly-poly yellow henchmen who serve Gru and, despite literally being designed to only assist the baddest of bad guys, can’t help but elicit “aww” after “aww.”

Of course the Minions would get their own spinoff, and a canny one at that: 2015’s “Minions” smartly went the prequel route, tracking the wacky history of the little guys, setting them up on a snazzy ’70s-fueled adventure, and eventually leading them to their beloved “mini boss,” kid Gru. Seven years later, the little guys are back for another story, though this one is besieged by classic retconning problems, mainly that Gru was maybe always kind of a sweetheart? And any lesson he needs to learn as an 11-year-old, we’ve already seen play out over the course of three other films? Oops.

Still: Minions! Which is probably the point, because no matter how enjoyable this franchise can be (and has been) for a wide audience before, it is a series mostly geared toward children. Kyle Balda’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” goes all in on that line of thinking, offering up a messy, madcap sequel that’s strictly for the little ones. Are there Minions? Yes. Are they cute and funny and silly and and unintelligible and really not evil at all? Yes. Do they sport a wide array of ’70s-leaning outfits and wigs? Yes. Do they learn kung fu from Michelle Yeoh? Somehow, yes. 

Illumination's "Minions: The Rise of Gru"

“Minions: The Rise of Gru”


But that’s only one small slice of a film that, even at just 88 minutes, feels both unbearably overstuffed and mercilessly undercooked. The chattering Minions delight, the evil supervillain group at its center have hilarious skills and names (like Jean Clawed, who has a giant lobster claw for a hand and is voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme), and there’s more disco jams on repeat than anyone could reasonably expect from an animated studio offering in the year of our lord 2022. It’s enough for the younger set to love it (and, based on the raucous response at the family-friendly press screening during which this critic took in the film, they’re very much gonna love it), but it adds little freshness or flair to a franchise very much in need of just that.

While early peeks at young Gru’s life are amusing, from his Tupperware-selling mom to his baffled peers, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” soon turns away from the minutiae of the tiny troublemaker’s life and sets about crafting a mission that (we’re meant to be believe) will resonate throughout the rest of his life. Gru is just crazy about The Vicious 6, a supervillain supergroup once led by Wild Knuckles (voiced, of course, by Alan Arkin) and recently taken over by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), and when he gets a chance to maybe join them, he jumps at the chance.

But The Vicious 6 have no use for a kid, even if he is Gru, and the mini boss enacts his revenge by making off with the group’s newly-snatched weapon, a gem-laced necklace that draws upon the power of the zodiac (again, the ’70s!) to do, well, bad stuff. It’s enough to draw the attention of Wild Knuckles, once believed dead, who kidnaps Gru and then, as is the wont of these films, starts to take a shine to his brand of pluck. Too bad then that the Minions have misplaced the necklace, resulting in a bifurcated mission that requires them to find it and save Gru from The Vicious 6, Wild Knuckles, and whoever else might want to off the mini menace.

Beloved Minions Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin, who has also directed or co-directed each “Despicable Me” film until this one) eventually find themselves in San Francisco, where they meet up with Yeoh’s Master Chow, who teaches them kung fu, while lone Minion Otto ends up on an adventure with a kind-hearted biker (voiced by RZA). Balda jumps and skips between each of these bizarre subplots with an understandable freneticism, all of them destined to end up together for one big battle, even if each individual thread feels decidedly weak.

Scattered moments of comedic transcendence — the kind that will appeal to the entire audience, even as they might scar a few young-uns, a classic hallmark of any good kids’ movie — do arrive, including a sequence in which the Minions attempt to pilot a commercial jet. Inevitably, they succeed, even if one of them is stripped naked in the process (the Minions love many things, but they really love butts).

Such is the case with “Minions: The Rise of Gru”: inevitably, it sort of succeeds, even if that means relying on silly gags, lots of butts, and the kind of set pieces that would only fly (literally) in the animated space. It’s colorful and madcap and zany, and while that might not make it suitable for all audiences, it will delight the very one it is made for. That’s fine for now, but if this franchise wants to survive, the next entry will have to take on a much tougher mission: stay silly, but get a whole lot smarter.

Grade: C

Universal Pictures will release “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in theaters on Friday, July 1.

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