Studios often bank on the fact that younger audiences don’t really care about what they’re watching, as long as it’s entertaining in the moment.
That’s probably a large part of the reason why Universal has crafted five films around yellow henchmen that ramble in an incoherent blend of languages indecipherable beyond an occasional word or generic phrase that helps kids figure out what’s happening.
A sequel to the spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise, the villainous Gru and his team of seemingly endless assistants returns for the first time since 2015 with Minions: The Rise of Gru, the summer’s biggest family-friendly animated feature released just in time for the Fourth of July weekend.
Set in 1970s America, this Minions sequel finds the dopey, yet lovable henchmen early in their service to Gru, needing to rescue their pre-teen leader from more experienced villains seeking an ancient Asian relic that would grant the wearer unlimited dragon power.
As with most of these non-sensical animated films, the plot – especially with the relic’s Macguffin nature – isn’t really important and just sets up increasingly ridiculous scenarios for lead henchmen Kevin, Stuart and Bob to overcome alongside Otto, a newer Minion who loses the relic needed to save Gru.
Pierre Coffin, who directed and co-directed the first four installments of the Despicable Me franchise, returns as the solo voice for all the Minions and his vibrant, eccentric tones perfectly synch up with the comedic moments and help differentiate the various Minions’ personalities vocally.
The film is at its most entertaining when Coffin is essentially talking to himself as Kevin, Stuart and Bob are all alone in an unfamiliar world and the theatricality in Coffin’s cadence and tone helps bring the bright colors alive beyond simple animation techniques.
Steve Carell returns as Gru and while his characterization remains consistent throughout the entirety of the Despicable Me series, there isn’t as much for Carell to do and almost no heart or character development from which Carell can emote like he does in the 2010 original film.
Likewise, the majority of new cast members playing the movie’s antagonists in the “Vicious 6” are nearly unrecognizable vocally even though most are leaning into type like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s lobster-claw toting baddie Jean-Clawed or Dolph Lundgren’s evil skater Svengeance. Almost all the secondary characters are so interchangeable that it doesn’t really matter who voices them.
The primary exceptions are Alan Arkin, who does a solid job being both vengeful and mentor figure to Gru as the original villain Wild Knuckles, and Michelle Yeoh, who comes out of nowhere to steal scenes as a massage therapist and Kung Fu master that trains Kevin, Stuart and Bob in martial arts.
For the most part, this sequel leans on solid animation techniques to maintain the visual style of the Despicable Me franchise and pushes bright color schemes to keep younger children engaged while a bevy of 70s music and other references to the era fly over their heads.
It’s also likely that Minions: The Rise of Gru will be a strong contender for animated awards later this year, although it’s less certain if it will be the second film in the franchise to earn an Oscar nomination after 2013’s Despicable Me 2.
Probably the most forgettable film in the series thus far, Minions: The Rise of Gru still has enough working in its favor to be a mildly entertaining 88-minute ride for younger audiences that shouldn’t offend adults taking their kids out to a summer film.