Despicable Me‘s Heroes are Back for More Monkey Business
DIRECTOR: KYLA BALDA, BRAD ABLESON (CO-DIRECTOR), JONATHAN DEL VAL (CO-DIRECTOR)/2022
“Who are these tater tots, and where did they get all this denim?”
This is what Gru asks when the Minions appear at his front door to offer their services, and frankly, can you blame him? In previous films, we have learned these miniature potato appetizers are immortal, indestructible, and always searching for an evil master. They are loyal to lengths that would be fatal for any other species, though they often take breaks for musical numbers and troubleshooting their half-developed schemes. In the 12 years since Despicable Me, they’ve been some of the most consistent characters at the movies, Teflon to sociopolitical interpretation and immune to your mom’s nonsensical Facebook memes.
In their newest-to-us adventure, we meet a young Gru (who must have gone through puberty early as he’s still voiced by Steve Carell) just learning to harness the power of the Minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin). He aspires to join the villainous posse the Vicious Six, led by aging hippie Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). Also in his league: Afrotastic disco queen Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), lobster-clawed Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Swedish roller skater Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), iron-fisted Stronghold (Danny Trejo), and habit-clad Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless). Gru and the Vicious Six are competing to obtain a magical gem, and since the plot of The Rise of Gru is a near-superfluous detail, the only real power of this McGuffin is to create opportunities for Minion tomfoolery.
I have seen seen all of the Despicable Me and Minions movies in theaters, and like every film before this one, I can barely recall what I watched within three seconds of leaving the theater. I can tell you I had a good time—in fact, I laughed louder than any of the children seated around me, partly because the ‘70s setting is filled with jokes for adults. The opening credits pay tribute to 007 flicks. Kevin, Stuart, and Bob learn kung fu from Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh). Otto lands Evel Knievel’s Grand Canyon jump on a tricycle and then takes an Easy Rider tour of the Southwest. Other Minions (probably named Brian, Dave, Glen, Greg, or Mike) co-host a Tupperware party with Gru’s mom (Julie Andrews). Akin to its predecessor’s ’60s setting or Despicable Me 3’s ’80s homages, this series operates at Stranger Things intensity when it comes to period winks.
The slapstick antics are for all ages, though, and they rival Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Jacques Tati in their creativity. Thanks to animation, they are not limited by physics or logic, either. (Case in point: No disguise is too thin to fool humans. Tiny hats are all they need to pull a Catch Me If You Can and pilot a commercial airliner, but there are no reconcilable rules for when such costumes are needed for their monkey business.) This series may be vapid, but it’s not lazy, innovating new gags about every three seconds to surprise and delight the audience.
2015’s Minions gave us their origin story, but Minions: The Rise of Gru gives no new insight into these hijinks-prone munchkins. They are still easily distracted toddlers, affectionate and mischievous as ever, and their purpose for cinematic existence is still to create as much chaos as possible. But unlike many franchises, this sameness is no flaw. It’s comforting reassurance that some things never change, even if that thing is just the Minions’ atavist commitment to silliness is as immortal and indestructible as they are.
The only question I would love for the next sequel to answer is where, in fact, they got all that denim.