mns_scarlet1sht_rgb_0126_1_0By Kyle G. King. If you have left your home at all this summer, you’ve no doubt encountered between twelve to seventeen products advertising Despicable Me’s new spin-off, Minions. From Bananas to Twinkies to even Tic-Tacs, it’s remarkable how similarly shaped the corn-colored critters are to everything we use. And between the advertising bonanza that they’ve become and the fact that they parade around spouting goofball gobbledygook like the children they appeal to, Illumination Entertainment has obviously tapped a gold-mine (pun intended: they’re yellow). The Minions earn a movie of their very own with a prequel set 42 years B.G. (before Gru), chronicling exactly how they came to be the worst (but most loveable) helpers you could ever hope for.

The adorable appeal of Minions is simple: naive yet extremely eager to please, they seem to be constantly jammed between having a good heart and having a severely impaired sense of judgement. Their innate playfulness breeds slapstick humor, but it goes generally unappreciated for centuries as they fail to serve all “the most despicable masters around”: Tyrannosaurus Rex, primordial man, Egyptian Pharaohs, Count Dracula, and even Napoleon Bonaparte fall victim to the Minions’ breed of clumsy worship. But despite these setbacks, three heroic Minions — Kevin, Bob, and Stuart (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) — wobble forward in a journey to find the biggest, baddest (and hopefully most appreciative) villain the world has to offer.

It’s a bold stride to shed human counterparts and depend largely on essentially speechless protagonists, but as international appeal bellows for the saffron servants, risk seems small and ticket sales almost guaranteed. While humans may now be the ones supporting minion agendas, the dynamic remains relatively the same. The leading device of “minion humor” is the offbeat mockery of basic human interactions, but if you take away nearly all human presence (making Minions far less minion-y) can it still work? The answer is very dependent on one’s age group. Minions does effectively resonate slightly above a simple money grab prequel, but parents might find themselves bored with trite devices only present to provide simple and silly laughs for the kids.

Minions-movie-still01Our yellow trio slowly make their way across the globe during the “Beatlemania” era of the 1960s — providing an aptly cool classic rock soundtrack that parents may find more appealing than anything else present. From New York to London to Orlando for Villain-Con (a cute appropriation of Comic-Con for baddies) the minions eventually find themselves graciously kissing the feet of “the greatest supervillain of all time”, Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her loving husband Herb (Jon Hamm). But where Gru provided heart and backstory for the Minions to cater to, Scarlett and Herb — while initially striking — chiefly fail their surname and fall extremely flat (and additionally lack the animated fun that came with Gru’s dastardly gadgets). It’s a fun reversal of power/gender roles for little girls to look up to, but when Scarlett’s evil agenda basically amounts to “I want to be a princess”, the esteem and risks at stake begin to flounder. There are plenty of silly gags and jokes to enjoy regardless, but in comparison to its predecessors Minions predominantly fails to serve anyone but the little ones.

While not all family films need to bleed commentary and speak to multiple generations, it’s still disappointing to see Minions‘ few opportunities wasted. As pseudo-silent film characters (the minions speak but within a largely incomprehensible mash-up of gibberish and five other languages), screenwriter Brian Lynch and directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda could have easily cashed in on the physical comedy stylings of Charlie Chaplin, Mr. Bean (both paying homage to the British setting of the second half), or even The Three Stooges. The kids would be none the wiser, but parents would appreciate the homage. Instead the comedy behind the eccentric language barrier quickly wears thin.

If you have kids, you have a choice between living vicariously through your progeny or catching a showing of the vastly superior Inside Out. If you don’t have kids, why are you even thinking about this movie? Grow up.