Last Thanksgiving, I told my Despicable Me-loving step-sister everything I knew about the upcoming Minion-centric spin-off, and I seemed to lose her the moment I mentioned that according to the spin-off Groo (Steve Carell) didn’t actually create the minions. They, in fact, have existed since the dawn of time, invariably linked in slaptastic ways to many of history’s most notable villains, although not Hitler because, well, this is a kid’s movie after all. Oh, great. Now I’m imagining Life is Beautiful just with the minions in place of Roberto Benini. Huh. It still kind of works. Anyway, she really didn’t like it when I mentioned that it appeared as if none of the Despicable Me characters would be in it, Steve Carell (who might at least make a cameo) and his rotating band of enemies replaced by a War of the Roses kind of thing going on between characters voiced by John Hamm and Sandra Bullock.
Now, I’d be interested to see what she thinks of the first Minions trailer, which dropped last night. Personally, I think it looks hilarious:
I was a bit of a grumpy cat about Despicable Me 2, arguing in my review:
It was probably unavoidable that those scene-stealing, gibberish-talking, walking plush bananas called the minions would be shoved to the front of Despicable Me 2. Their propensity for falling down as well as also laughing at the mere utterance of the word “butt” gives them an oddly appealing mix of silent film-esque slapstick with Beavis & Butthead-level immaturity. Plus, their inability to speak in a recognizable language lends them a universal appeal, much as Rowan Atkinson’s mostly mute Mr. Bean character was immensely popular worldwide due to the presentation of broad comedy with no language barrier.
So, while the minions were but a small part of the first Despicable Me they overtake the sequel. In the original film, the minions had one showcase sequence where three of them posed as a family as they went to a big-box retail store to retrieve a new stuffed unicorn for Gru’s youngest daughter. In the sequel, the minions have sequences such as that one roughly ever 5 minutes. The plot could easily be outlined as “Exposition Sequence – Funny Sequence with Minions,” rinse and repeat until the film’s final act at which point the minions become central to the plot.
Unfortunately, the minions were usually best when used to play off of other human characters in the original whereas they are often isolated together in the sequel. Perhaps they figured that if Wall-E could pull of a speechless protagonist in an animated film so could they. However, the minion sequences mostly just resort to cheap 3D movie tricks of things being thrown directly at the camera (so many times it appears a minion is jumping straight at you). More frustrating, though is that more minions means less of everybody else, and the minions were not the only great part of the first Despicable Me.
I am more behind what I see from the Minions in this early trailer because they no longer have primary characters from whom they are stealing scenes when it is finally entirely their own film. I actually like the idea of following them like a group of incompetent gremlins, unintentionally sabotaging the efforts of the likes of Napoleon and Dracula. It’s been said that one of the reasons Hollywood is going so all-in on comic book movies and loud action films is because those speak a universal language international audiences can understand while more culturally specific works get lost in translation. In this environment, Minions seems like the type of film which could turn into a worldwide hit, with plenty of easy-to-understand physical humor and gibberish conversations you can kind of follow. I’ll be extra interested to see how much future trailers reveal of the actual speaking parts in the film, i.e., how much of this is going to be a Wall-E-esque silent film homage, and how much is going to feature human characters conversing with the Minions? We’ll have plenty of time to find out before Minions begins rolling out into theaters late next June, officially hitting the U.S. on July 10th, 2015.
Arriving far earlier than that will be Penguins of Madasgar, DreamWorks Animation’s Madasgar spin-off. There will be lots of extra eyeballs on this one considering the financial turmoil DreamWorks has been through, stock prices plummeting, lay-offs left and right, and a potential sale to an Asian investor falling through in the final hours. To that end, Penguins was actually originally supposed to come out next year, but then Mr. Peabody & Sherman did its disappointing box office act and How to Train Your Dragon 2 came in under expectations. So, DreamWorks got a little nervous about the original film property, Home, it was going to open over Thanksgiving, with Penguins of Madasgar looking like a safer bet. As a result, the two films swapped release dates, and now we get Penguins over the Thanksgiving holiday. Yeah, but does it actually look any good? Here’s the final trailer:
That looks exactly like the type of animated film you don’t mind seeing with your kids or whatever little kids you might have around, plenty of harmless slapstick comedy for them to enjoy, the occasional over-their-head reference for you to smirk at, such as the Werner Herzog moment. Plus, what’s not to love about Benedict Cumberbatch getting increasingly annoyed by the surly behavior of some ultimately lovable penguins?
Minions opens July 10, 2015; Penguins of Madagascar begins delighting families less than a month from now, November 26.
What do you think? Was I too hard on Despicable Me 2? Too quick to embrace Minions? And does it matter that I, awkward pause, haven’t actually seen any of the Madasgar films prior to the Penguins spin-off? Let me know in the comments.