Ugh, the worst part about going to see children’s movies is all the bloody children that show up. They’ve got their sticky little fingers and their high pitched, prepubescent voices, and I have to sit awkwardly next to them. Sure, most of the kids in my screening were pretty quiet and well behaved, but it’s the principle of the thing goddammit! Anyways, the point is, I’m eighty-seven years old and y’all need to stay the fuck off my lawn.
Speaking of old folks, I think that Minions might be a movie aimed at that demographic. “But it’s obviously an animated kids movie,” you might say. “And is that a new shirt? You look so handsome in it!” you might also say. Well, thank you for that, I do dress to impress, and while everything on the surface would point to this being a movie exclusively for kids with a few jokes for the parents thrown in, the adult jokes are so many and so dated that I can’t seem to figure out who exactly the target audience is supposed to be.
Let’s get some background first. Minions is a prequel to the 2010 film, Despicable Me and tells the origin of Gru’s (Steve Carell) little yellow minions. Apparently, the minions are a race of sexless, immortal beings who have evolved from single-celled organisms to their current, humanoid forms. Not “evolved” in the Darwinian sense but in the Pokemon sense in that they are the exact same individuals who existed in the primordial ooze and, one day, just leveled up to the point that they could step out onto the land. Are they amphibious? Can they alter their own physiology? Were they sent here by an angry god to punish us for our hubris? These are questions that are never answered. What we are told (by narrator Geoffrey Rush) is that they will seek out and follow the biggest villain that there is at any given time, mostly to the villain’s detriment.
After almost killing Napoleon, they are driven into a cave, where they spend more than a century becoming depressed, despondent, and desperate for a new boss. Three minions, Kevin, Stewart, and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) set out to find themselves a new leader and give their tribe a purpose again. After some adventures, they find employment with Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), who tasks them with stealing Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Some shenanigans occur and, not to spoil anything, the movie has a happy ending. What else would you expect from a movie like this?
Anyway, most of the movie takes place in 1968 and this is where we get to the issue of who the audience is supposed to be. A lot of the comedy is slapstick that appeals to all ages and is actually pretty good all things considered. What’s weird is all of the jokes that rely on a relatively deep knowledge of late sixties culture. Are the kids supposed to know what the cover of Abbey Road looks like? Should they be able to identify the song “Hair” by melody alone? Will they understand an Andy Warhol joke and get why it’s funny? “But Dave, those are jokes for the parents who are forced to sit through this by their horrible, smelly offspring,” you might coo, all the while stroking my muscular chest. While that may be true, my sweet thing, it doesn’t seem right to me that so much of the humor should be based around jokes we know the kids won’t get, unless they’re Benjamin Button, or something. Shit, I bet half the parents won’t recognize some of the references*. That being said, I can’t help but compare Minions to Inside Out just a bit.
Now, this is apples to oranges stuff; the two movies are going for completely different things.
Minions is a straight comedy that has next to no desire to move anyone emotionally. Whereas Inside Out will devastate you in ways you didn’t know were possible and then demand that you thank it for all the trouble you put it through. What I’m getting at is that Inside Out has more than enough jokes that appeal to the adults in the theater, but they are still the kind that are universal and ageless. While many kids might not get them at first they probably will come to understand in time, and they will never become dated or hackney. There is a real craft to them that makes the film all the more impressive.
Minions makes jokes on the level of Family Guy. Everything is based around, “Hey, do you recognize this thing? Haha, right?!” It can be funny in the moment, but it gets old fast, and leaves the uninitiated out of the loop. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just seems like a very odd choice for a media that will be consumed mostly by the Under Nine crowd.
That being said, this isn’t a bad movie. It does what it sets out to do pretty well. Parts of it are beautifully animated and there are some genuine laughs in it. Bullock seems to be phoning it in, but Jon Hamm, who plays her husband, is absolutely fucking fantastic. I went into this expecting to hate everything about this movie, and came out with an overwhelming feeling of “meh.” It wasn’t terrible, but I can’t see myself remembering anything about it a few days from now. But I’m sure it’s a great way to silence your ever growing brood for ninety minutes, whilst you remember a simpler time. A time before they ruled your life with their tiny, iron fists. And in that time you can close your eyes, smile to yourself, and thank the minions for your respite.
*It should be noted that I’m a cultural elitist and an asshole, so if you are a parent of a young child who knows as much or more about the sixties as I do, then congratulations on being morally superior to me.