Minions (Review): “Forced Chaos”

(Source: Universal Pictures)
(Source: Universal Pictures)


As a person who has recently graduated with a second class honours degree in journalism, I can happily go on record and say that I’m not an idiot, even if I did decide to spend three years of my life expensively studying what I keep getting told is a dying profession. Yet sometimes, I get distracted whilst watching kids movies, wondering why I don’t “get it”. After all, if young children can grasp it, why can’t I? When watching certain children’s movies, I become increasingly concerned that they aren’t catering to their young audiences, so much as condescending to them, offering cute characters and fart jokes in lieu of anything substantial. For an adult, this only highlights how bad some of the storytelling is; with the narrative itself offering nothing remotely entertaining, I become increasingly distracted by little character details that wouldn’t annoy me were the film actually doing its job properly of engaging all audiences.

About ten minutes into Minions, I became distracted by one question that goes permanently unanswered throughout both the film and the entire Despicable (in name and exceedingly poor quality) franchise: how do minions reproduce? This naturally opened a floodgate of questions that are far more entertaining to speculate on that watching the film itself. If all the minions are all men, does this mean that they are like seahorses and can carry children despite being male? Or do they reproduce asexually? What does a minion’s cock actually look like? If minions have the ability to carry children, does that mean some are hermaphrodites at birth? If minions are all men and they have sex, then is this the most LGBT-friendly children’s franchise ever made? Do minions even reproduce, or are they just immortal? Are the same minions we see in the opening sequence the same ones that are taking centre stage in 1968?

Over the course of 91 minutes of my life I will never get back (including the longest and most needless post-credits sequence since 28 Days Later), none of these questions are answered. Instead, we are told by a narrator (Geoffrey Rush) that the minions have indeed always been with us, existing only to serve the most evil masters they can find, yet always end up accidentally killing them. In the sole joke in the movie I actually laughed at, they kill Dracula by waking him up on the morning of his birthday to give him a cake. They eventually decide to go and start a kingdom of their own, but become bored of their existence without serving a master- three minions, Stuart, Kevin and Bob (all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin), decide to head back to the real world to find a new evil master.

Due to circumstances I can’t be bothered questioning, involving a secret TV channel you can only find if you hold the aerial in a certain way, they go to VillainCon in Florida, becoming the minions for Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) who wants them to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown. All of the villains at VillainCon are famous for stealing – I was wondering why the big villains of our times weren’t in attendance, yet somebody called Frankie Fish Lips (villain power: looking like a fish) was. This is set in 1968, after all, so you would at least expect a Charles Manson cameo.

I went into Minions expecting to hate it, having only seen the first Despicable Me and finding it a derivative mishmash of several better Pixar films (it is basically The Incredibles but with super villains and the surrogate-parent element of Monsters Inc. rolled into one). I was even saving a place on the “worst film of 2015” mantelpiece for it and preparing a rant about how the minions are just the Crazy Frog of our times; annoying little creatures who make gobbledegook versions of pop songs that are inexplicably popular. Crazy Frog at least had the purpose of making you answer your phone – the minions exist solely to make parents shed their hard earned cash to buy their children merchandise they don’t need.

Beginning literally from the opening second of the film, with the Minions loudly ruining the Universal Studios theme tune, I mentally prepared myself for what was surely going to follow through and be the most annoying film I’ve seen recently. Yet despite the influx of the annoying yellow runts, the movie never becomes as annoying as many others have found it. Instead, it occupies a weird middle ground where it neither deserves the vitriol or the praise. It just exists, solely to make money, with quality control a distant concern; this fact is largely responsible for why many have taken against it. For me, the major problem is that it promises a chaotic, anarchic movie that it fails to deliver- forcing characters who are by very definition destructive and unpredictable into a formulaic three act structure that can be wrapped up nicely in 90 minutes. You could argue that a chaotic element is impossible to achieve in animation, due to the extensive production process, but I would beg to differ; Aardman animation studios have constantly provided a sense of manic, unpredictable chaos in every one of their films- and due to being stop-motion animated, have gone through a longer production process, which still hasn’t diluted the sense of fun and mayhem.

The most chaotic film of recent years is also a stop motion cartoon, the Belgian animation A Town Called Panic, described by one reviewer as a “crap Belgian Toy Story”. That movie acts as conclusive proof that controlled chaos is all the more fun if you prioritise the chaos instead of how to control it to make it tangible for mainstream audiences. Like Minions, the narrative of A Town Called Panic feels like it was made up as it goes along, but in that film’s case, it is to cater for the slapstick mayhem, instead of the fact that the directors could have just written anything knowing it would be a box office success. With Minions, every mishap feeds into a tried and tested narrative formula, making you wish the directors had tapped into the innate sense of anarchy the characters represent – the movie may have been more annoying, but at least it wouldn’t have been the forgettable mediocrity it is.

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