Still from Minions: The Rise of Gru

Film Review: Minions: The Rise of Gru

Film Reviews

Minions: The Rise of Gru
Director: Kyle Balda

In Theaters 7.01

If you grew up watching the Despicable Me films, you probably don’t remember Steve Urkel, but your parents do. The shrill, bespectacled, squeaky-voiced neighbor on the ABC sitcom Family Matters, Steve Urkel was never meant to be the focus of the series until he became an audience favorite, and suddenly the show was all about Urkel. Sound familiar? The 2015 release of Minions signaled the full Urkelization of the Despicable Me franchise. While its prequel, Minions: The Rise of Gru continues in that vein, it tries to find a bit more balance and  a more coherent story. 

Minions: The Rise of Gru is set in the 1970s and introduces us to an 11-year-old boy named Gru (once again voiced by Steve Carell). Gru is like any other suburban kid, except that he dreams of becoming a supervillain like his idols, a consortium of diabolical fiends known as the Vicious 6. Gru writes to them begging to be considered for membership, and when the group expels their leader, Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), an opening gives Gru a chance for an interview. Seeingthat Gru is just a kid, the Vicious 6 laugh at him and turn him away. Gru finds a way to get their attention by stealing a powerful object that the group need for their plan for world domination. Together with his most loyal minions—Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto—Gru sets out to prove himself as a force to be reckoned with, finding an unexpected mentor in Wild Knuckles himself. When Gru is kidnapped by the Vicious 6, it’s Minions to the rescue, and it’s up to our plucky bands of little yellow weirdos to save the day.

Director Kyle Balda and his screenwriting team seem to be keenly aware that, while the first Minions spinoff relied entirely on the silly antics of these characters whom kids find hilarious, there’s only so much of the little guys speaking gibberish and running around like they are doped up on helium that parents can handle. Minions: The Rise of Gru benefits from bringing back Carrell as the central character, though there’s simply no getting around the fact that the whole schtick is wearing thin. Where the original Despicable Me was a fantastic family film overflowing humor and heart, Minions: The Rise of Gru is a perfectly serviceable kids movie, no more and no less. 

The story moves along briskly, and while there are some amusing moments playing on the Minions’ gibberish language, I didn’t feel bombarded with it to the point of wanting to bang my head on the seat in front of me the way I did with the previous Minions film. The bulk of the storytelling is done through Gru, and the interaction between Carrell and the always-reliable Arkin is quite enjoyable. When the Minions do take center stage, they are cute and mostly amusing, and the addition of Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once) as Master Chow, who trains the four main Minions in kung fu, is a treat. The animation is well done but doesn’t offer anything new.

Minions: The Rise of Gru isn’t a movie I’d be likely to watch again on my own, but the knowledge that my nephews will want me to watch it with them frequently doesn’t bother me at all. It’s cute, lightweight, disposable fun. –Patrick Gibbs

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