Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Much Mirth in MINIONS

They're small, yellow and they speak gibberish -- just like wacky characters played by Danny Kaye or Sid Caesar.  Sometimes they sound like Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy pretending to be Martians on the  observation deck of the Empire State Building.   Minions have been around since dinosaur times.  Now it's 1968.
Let me just say it up front -- I know they are two different types of big screen entertainment, but I feel this script was better than the one for Jurassic World.  In addition to that, it made me laugh more than Inside Out, that sentimental and animated big box office hit.  Minions had me laughing out loud in the first five minutes and the laughs kept coming through this short, snappy feature.  It runs only 1 hour and 25 minutes.  Inside Out is more inventive, sophisticated and original with its use of psychology and feelings as characters.  But that psychology kept it a bit grounded and scholastic, if you will.  There wasn't quite that thrill of buoyancy and whimsy you got from classic Disney features such as Pinocchio and Peter Pan, two productions that also dealt with the light and dark of childhood as did Inside Out.  There's whimsy in Minions.  It's not out to make a psychological point, it's just out to make you laugh.  You've got three lead Minions -- Kevin, Bob and Stuart.  Three little pill-shaped yellow creatures.  A total of five eyes.  They live to be henchman for the baddest creature or person around at the time.  They mean to be bad, but they keep screwing up and doing good instead.  Here's an example:
The minions seek a bad new leader.  Without one, they're depressed.  Kevin has an idea.  He, Stuart and Bob make it to the East Coast.  They're inspired while watching television in New York City.  Baby boomers will dig that scene and confirm its accuracy.  TVs were not always flatscreens.  They were once large boxlike appliances with antennas. On TV, there's a commercial for Villain-Con ("So much fun, it's a crime.")  Appearing there will be the Number One criminal genius -- Scarlett Overkill (voiced quite festively by Sandra Bullock).  The Minions will hitch-hike to Villain-Con, meet her and become her henchman.  Where is this convention of criminals?  Florida!  Kevin, Stuart and Bob make their dream come true.  They meet Scarlett Overkill.
This feature will have the Baby Boomers laughing harder than the Millennials in the cineplex audiences.  There are visual references to Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, The Beatles and Abbey Road and the Rankin/Bass puppets from a classic retro TV holiday special.  Remember the Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  A somewhat similar creature appears in one of my favorite scenes -- a scene that broke me up laughing.  It's like Rankin/Bass meets a classic MGM musical from the 1950s.

I first laughed at the Minions in 2010's Despicable Me, another animated winner.  Gru is an evil mastermind whose cold, cruel heart is melted by a trio of orphan girls.  One of the funniest things about that movie was the almost unrecognizable and hilarious voiceover work Julie Andrews did as Gru's annoying, battle-ax of a mother.  Look sharp when the yellow trio enters Villain-Con.  You'll see Gru and his crabby mother on the main floor.  In Minions, it's Jon Hamm who's a knockout as he voices the hipster evil husband of evil Scarlett Overkill.  We followed Hamm as the dark, complex Don Draper on Mad Men.  He was terrific as that complicated advertising executive.  You've got to hear the actor as Herb Overkill.  Hamm has got the comedy gift.  He does wonderful character vocal work.

Scarlett's main goal is to go to London and steal the Queen's crown.  But... she's mean to one of the Minions.  Big mistake.  Even though she's bad, she must be stopped.
Kids 12 and under will dig Minions.  The parents and grandparents may dig it even more as it recalls the 1960s and references other pop culture.  I recommend this one for some groovy weekend family entertainment.  Minions opens Friday, July 10th.

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