Should a children’s film entertain just their target audience or the parents who accompany their kids too? There are films like Fantastic Mr Fox, The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that satisfy both sets of audience, and there is content like Teletubbies and Dora the Explorer, strictly for the kids. And then, there’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, which is meant for both audiences, but fails to enchant either.
Set in the 70s, a few years after the events of Minions (2015), this film follows 12-year-old Gru, who harbours supervillain ambitions, and his gang of Minions as they get caught between the internal conflicts of a team of supervillains known as the Vicious 6. Like every kid’s film out there, Minions: The Rise of Gru also has an underlying message fit for all ages—everyone needs a little help from their friends. But the film fails to establish that despite it being the only serious aspect throughout the runtime.
Steve Carell returns to voice the titular character while Pierre Coffin is also back as the sound of all the Minions. But the crowd-puller, just like in the previous film, is the brilliant voice cast for the rest of the roles. The Vicious 6 is voiced by Taraji P Henson, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Jean-Claude Van Damme (who plays Jean Clawed, a man with a giant lobster claw) but they hardly do anything. What disheartens you the most is how the ingenuity that went behind such wordplay is almost absent in the plot of the film.
Just like always, what works in Minions: The Rise of Gru is the Minions themselves, their gibberish mixed with a bit of French and English, and their annoying antics that eventually save the day. We have our favourite Kevin, Bob and Stuart, along with a new one named Otto, and the scenes involving them are the best of the lot. Ironically, most of the chuckle-worthy sequences are the ones that are only remotely connected to the film’s actual plot—like Otto befriending a biker (voiced by RZA) and embarking on a cross-country ride, and the one where the original trio try to learn Kung Fu from an acupuncturist named Chow (Michelle Yeoh).
As always, pop-culture references are aplenty. In one of the training sequences, Yeoh’s character goes meta when she glides over thin air like the veteran actor’s famous character from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The film’s actual credits roll is a spoof of James Bond films and the Minions even dress up in Bruce Lee’s iconic yellow jumpsuit after learning Kung Fu. As a reference to the franchise, we get to see a small cameo from Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) who becomes Gru’s assistant in the future as seen in the Despicable Me films. There are also the banana jokes that have become synonymous with this franchise.
Unfortunately, all of these instigate mere chuckles and feel like amusing distractions to the film’s plot that’s as thin as the bunch of hair on Kevin’s head. The “jokes” that these films are known for have shrivelled in both quantity and quality. Every time the makers felt there was space to make the audience laugh, we are subjected to Minions showing their bare bottoms and fart jokes. And what is with the sudden fascination toward Asia? The film features a Zodiac stone as its MacGuffin and it gives the wielder the power to turn into a dragon. At a time when films like Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings and Ms Marvel are establishing the culture of Asian countries in the Western hemisphere, such tropes make them feel like cheap antics to cash in on the franchise’s popularity in Asian countries.
What should have been a film about the shenanigans of Minions in the retro world ends up as a damp squib thanks to an unimaginative plot. Minions: The Rise of Gru not only gets weighed down under the weight of the success of its franchise but it also suffers from studios trying to milk a highly successful brand of characters. Let us hope that the next Minions film has the right makers and ample space to go bananas!