Here’s my Empire review of Despicable Me.
Here are my notes on Despicable Me 2
This lacks the character arc of Despicable Me, and I suspect there’s a peril in store if it’s a hit enough to get a third entry – as in Shrek, the first film was about a lovably horrid protagonoist who reforms, and while this is fast and clever enough to get past the fact that Gru (Steve Carrell) is a softer character now, it winds up with him getting married (he already has surrogate daughters), and settling into domesticity tends to mean films by and for young middle-aged folk who are actually more interested in the issues of suburban discontent than fun stuff like zapping folk or taking over the world. The thin plot is that Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League, repped by agent LucyWilde (Kristen Wiig), to track down another baddie, the Mexican wrestling-masked El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), who has stolen a mutagen serum and is hiding out in a mall.
The characters are appealing, and Lucy is a rare toon woman who’s fun rather than having to be a Mom figure (though she is eventually co-opted as Fun Mom by the kids), but what really works is the relentless parade of inventive jokes, often featuring Gru’s weird little yellow minions (the breakout characters from the first film) and a range of reference that keeps grown-ups on side while delighting kids (who probably don’t get the Carmen Miranda or Village People jokes) with simple silliness. The mutagen turns the minions into purple, hairy, fangy beasts, and there’s a shark-in-a-volcano scene. Early on, a minion gets its head stuck in a jamjar – most movies would be content with that gag, but this ensures that the same jarheaded minion runs throughout the film, even when mutated, though never prominently. Also, the end credits sequence is a rare, purely joyful use of 3D gimmickry in the old bouncing ball sense, with bubbles, a kazoo, trombone wheezers, etc., shoved out into the audience. With Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong. Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul; directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.
… and on Minions
Generations of kids have learned that though icing is their favourite part of cake it doesn’t make for a satisfying meal – and, indeed, often leads to nausea. The minions – little yellow indestructible beings in goggles and dungarees – were a running gag in the two likeable Despicable Me movies, but they no more needed their own vehicle than the Flying Monkeys of Oz or the faceless hordes of SPECTRE. This is essentially a montage narrated by Geoffrey Rush following the evolution of minions from prehistory through to 1968 and their first meeting with Gru (Steve Carrell) – with a detour that constitutes this movie’s thin plot as three individuated minions (Kevin, Stewart and Bob) attach themselves to blah arch-villainess Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and fall foul of her petty jealousy. The 1968 setting allows for a classic pop soundtrack – yes, Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow’ is the end credits track – and a lot of nice design frills, from the Shining carpeting to the purple haze wallpaper, but is weirdly arbitrary.
I suppose the period is as distant now as, say, the 1920s were when Thoroughly Modern Millie was released, but it still seems too spiky, fractious and revolutionary a moment to be so thoroughly co-opted into a pop culture mish-mash for 21st century kids who see Jimi Hendrix, Warhol, Nixon, the Monkees, the Kinks, Swinging London, the Beatles and Hair as all one not-very-meaningful remote nostalgia moment. It’s a footnote to the screen careers of Dracula (a previous minion-master dusted when they pull back the curtains to wish him a happy birthday) and the Creature From the Black Lagoon (here, aka Freddy Fishlips). It breezes along adequately but keeps skipping past good ideas, like the villain convention where the minions latch onto Scarlet, and dwelling on bad ones, like Scarlet’s thinly-conceived husband sidekick Herb (Jon Hamm). Of course, in an animated kids’ film, you don’t expect historical veracity – but the prices at the Tower of London in 1968 are given in new money and there’s a TV news report from inside the House of Commons. With the overqualified voices of Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan and Jennifer Saunders (as the Queen). It also features Napoleon, a T-Rex, the abominable snowman and several songs (‘Hair’, ‘Revolution’) translated into that falsetto mock-Italian minionese. Scripted by Brian Lynch. Directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin.