The riotous Minions: In search of a worthy leader

By Wendell Gaa

We are in the middle of the summer movie season, and that can only mean we can expect to see more family-friendly features from Hollywood on the big screen.

Alas, we need not look further than the newly-released “Minions,” from the same studio that brought us all the riotously funny “Despicable Me” films.

“Minions” is a pleasing prequel installment to the animated film series about an arch-villain named Gru and his scene-stealing allies who are, well needless to say, his minions. Watching the very first “Despicable Me” film and its sequel, the minions themselves, those short odd-looking oval-shaped yellow-colored creatures who speak incomprehensible gibberish, were the true stars of the movies for me, and I’m sure many fans feel the same way, so it’s only fitting that Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment produce a stand-alone film about these peculiar yet appealing beings.

I was only too excited to be watching “Minions” at the cinema together with a few good friends, which included Marc Lacanlale, son of former New York Philippine Consul General Linglingay Lacanlale (who headed the Consulate here from 1999 to 2003), and now an employee at the New York Philippine Center himself. We were all eager to see how the film would describe in length the origin story of the minions and who exactly they were and how they came to be before coming under the wing of their master Gru.

In terms of plot, “Minions” doesn’t really have to offer anything groundbreaking or extraordinary for a big screen animated film, and that’s perfectly fine with me, for the movie solidly accomplishes what it intends to in the first place: entertain families.

The movie starts off with a very humorous take on the biological origins of the minions at the beginning of time, how they evolved from single-celled yellow organisms to living beings meant for one thing, and one thing only, to serve their evil masters. Just who their masters were throughout the ages happen to be a colorful selection of “villainous” characters such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex during the dinosaur age, to early rampaging Neanderthals during the Stone Age, to even historical conquerors such as Napoleon Bonaparte. But none of these masters get to live forever to lord over them, thereby leaving the minions to live without purpose or direction for several generations.

This seemingly endless state of stagnation puts the minions in directionless depression, until fast forward to modern times, and there is one clever minion named Kevin who hatches a plot to find a master whom his group could live to serve loyally. He takes his friends Bob and Stuart to join him on a road trip down to Orlando, Florida to attend Villain-Con (a cute parody of such famous pop culture gatherings as San Diego and New York Comic Con), a convention where they hope to meet and choose their new master.

After hitching a ride with some eccentric good Samaritans who are also traveling down to Orlando to attend Villain-Con, the three amigos finally arrive at their destination, where they witness an assortment of exhibits and panels promoting the virtues of “villainy,” but it is an encounter with the flamboyant Scarlet Overkill, the world’s first-known super-villainess, that leaves Kevin, Bob and Stuart star-struck beyond words (not that much of what they say is understandable anyway). Seeing her as the perfect new master for them, the three go out on a limb to try to win over Scarlet and convince her that they are just the servants she needs to accomplish her next malicious master scheme.

Of course things don’t turn out the way Kevin, Bob, Stuart and Scarlet Overkill want to, and that is part of the fun and amusement in watching “Minions.” As I’ve said before, the movie doesn’t even try to be more than what it is as an animated comedy for the whole family, which for sure is a good thing. While I doubt that “Minions” will earn any Oscar recognition in the Best Animated Feature category (my gut feeling tells me that honor this year will go to Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out”), people of all ages will still very much adore this film, and I’m pretty confident many more kids in particular will hanker their parents to buy them “pop head” toy figures of the characters.

For fans of 1960s-era music, you will be happy to know that this film has a pleasant soundtrack that consists of song pieces from such iconic bands as the Beatles, the Monkees and the Who, and to see the minions do their own rendition on their songs is hilarious.

If there is just one minor complaint I’ve had about the characterization of the minions, it’s that they all seem so uniform in their speech, behavior and appearance (save for the occasional one-eyed fellow), lacking any true individuality or personality. But these yellow creatures who we could easily mistake as aliens from another planet are just too endearing and infectious that you could hardly care. While most of what comes out of their mouth is unintelligible, listen closely, and you will hear words and phrases borrowed from other languages, English, Spanish, Hebrew, and yes, even Tagalog!

The author (right) with friend Marc Lacanlale after they watched the film at AMC Kip Bay Cinemas in Manhattan.

The author (right) with friend Marc Lacanlale after they watched the film at AMC Kip Bay Cinemas in Manhattan.

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