Minions: The Rise of Gru Review

Minions: The Rise of Gru is the fifth overall installment in Illumination’s Despicable Me franchise, and the second that shifts the focus away from Gru in favor of the ubiquitous Minions. Though, as the subtitle suggests, Gru has much more of a role here than he did in the first Minions movie (in which he appeared as a background Easter egg in one scene, and then had a speaking cameo at the end, which made the aforementioned background Easter egg kind of superfluous). Because of Gru’s more prominent role, you could argue that this seconds Minions movie is more of a Despicable Me prequel than it is a Minions spinoff. But that may be for the best, considering how the first Minions movie didn’t seem to know how to have its titular, Twinkie-shaped creatures carry the story on their own (its villain seemed to get more screentime than the Minions themselves). In that sense, Minions: The Rise of Gru is an improvement over its predecessor, but whether or not you enjoy it may depend on how well you can tolerate the Minions themselves.

Children (and Facebook moms) can’t seem to get enough of the Minions, while many other audiences find the antics and gibberish ramblings of the Minions irksome. I’m a bit indifferent to them, myself. I can understand why many find the Minions annoying, but I also know I’m not the target audience for the characters and find their antics harmless. Their worst crime is resurrecting the trend of animated sidekick characters purposefully upstaging the main characters. In short, I may not be a fan of the Minions, but I don’t hate them, either. If you’re someone who does enjoy the Minions, then you’ll probably get a kick out of Minions: The Rise of Gru, but if you aren’t a fan, then this movie certainly isn’t going to convert you.

The story here takes place in the 1970s. Gru (Steve Carell) is still just a kid with aspirations to become a great supervillain. Now that he has the Minions as his, well, minions, he’s a step closer to his goals. The Minions help Gru commit petty, bullyish crimes, like cutting in line at an ice cream shop, stealing some ice cream, and then eating said ice cream in front of a gym to taunt the people inside trying to burn calories. If the movie has one notable strength, it’s that this is the first time since the first Despicable Me that we’ve seen Gru actually be a villain. And isn’t that why people liked this series in the first place?

Anyway, the plot sees Gru invited to join his favorite supervillain team, the Vicious Six, after their former leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), is presumed dead (in reality, he was given the boot for being too old). The Vicious Six have recently stolen an ancient treasure, the Zodiac Stone (which is actually a medallion). When Gru is denied entry into the Vicious Six for being too young, he steals the Zodiac Stone from the villain group. The Vicious Six, lead by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), then swear revenge against Gru. But before they can track Gru down, the aspiring villain is kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, who also wants the stone.

Unbeknownst to Wild Knuckles or the Vicious Six, one of Gru’s Minions, Otto (voiced by Pierre Coffin, as all the Minions are) has traded the stone for a Pet Rock with a neighborhood kid. Once Gru is kidnapped, three of his Minions, Kevin, Bob and Stuart set out to rescue their leader, while Otto goes to retrieve the Zodiac Stone. Meanwhile, Wild Knuckles starts to take a liking to Gru, who becomes the apprentice of the one-time Vicious Six leader.

To be honest, there’s not much more of a plot than that. A recurring issue with Illumination’s movies is that they feel less like animated films and more like episodes of a television cartoon stretched into a feature length. It’s no unforgiveable sin, and not every animated film has to be an emotional masterpiece, but after a while you start to wish that Illumination would at least aim for something more. Sadly, Minions: The Rise of Gru is another example of Illumination settling.

On the reverse side, if there’s one thing Illumination deserves credit for, it’s the quality of the animation itself. Illumination is known for making their films on a relatively smaller budget than other mainstream animation studios, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Illumination’s films are always colorful and pop with a visual liveliness, and that’s very much the case here with this Minions sequel.

Minions: The Rise of Gru has something to offer fans of the series: there’s some genuinely funny moments, the animation is as eye-popping as ever, and it’s fun to see Gru go back to his cartoonishly villainous roots. There’s also a fun sub-plot where Kevin, Stuart and Bob study kung-fu from an acupuncturist named Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh). But again, this is a movie that isn’t going to win over those who aren’t already initiated into the material. The Minions are still very much the Minions, and the movie follows Illumination’s trend of being just entertaining enough to be adequate. It may provide some fun when watching it, but it leaves no lasting impression.

To many audiences, Minions: The Rise of Gru may be as bland as a potato. But for the young tykes who can’t get enough of the Minions, they may just go bananas.



Despicable Me 3 Review

The Despicable Me series may not consist of any animated masterpieces, but it has been consistently entertaining with its first two entries. Though its 2015 spinoff film, Minions, never quite hit the right notes, the third proper entry in the Despicable Me franchise serves as a return to form for the series.

Like its predecessors, Despicable Me 3 isn’t aiming to be an animated classic, but it does succeed in being a fun, colorful ride that – despite an overstuffed plot – is every bit as funny and entertaining as it’s ever been.

In Despicable Me 3, former villain Gru (Steve Carell) and his new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) have become leading agents of the Anti-Villain League, though a persistent villain named Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) – a former child-star of the 1980s who went mad after his series was cancelled once he hit puberty – has proven to be a continuous thorn in Gru and Lucy’s side. After Bratt makes another cunning escape from Gru and Lucy, the Anti-Villain League’s new management fires the married agents.

Gru is downtrodden at the loss of his and his wife’s jobs, and seeks revenge on Bratt. But things get all the more complicated when Gru learns he has a long-lost twin brother named Dru (also Steve Carell). So Gru and Lucy; along with their adopted daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes, pack up their bags to go and meet Gru’s brother.

If this scenario sounds like two very different plots, that’s because, well, it kind of is. Despicable Me 3 suffers from a similar problem to the second installment in that it just has way too much going on. Not only do we have two different main storylines, but also a few too many sub-plots: All but two of the Minions quit working for Gru after learning he won’t be returning to villainy after being fired from the AVL, Lucy is still trying to fit into her role as a mother, and Agnes is preoccupied with finding a real-life unicorn.

It’s all a bit overstuffed, to the point that many of the series’ characters don’t have a lot to do amidst it all (even with Agnes’ side story, Gru’s daughters have a largely reduced role; and Gru’s loyal inventor Dr. Nefario has been written out of the plot entirely – albeit by the comical means of accidentally freezing himself in carbonite). And frankly, the plot involving Gru’s relationship with his brother feels a bit half-baked, with the goings-on between Gru and Balthazar being far more entertaining.

So there’s a lot going on, and many aspects of the film feel underdeveloped due to it. We’ve got that covered. However, like its predecessors, Despicable Me 3 is ultimately good fun due to its sense of humor and wildly stylized animation.

Illumination Entertainment never seems to be trying to compete with the likes of Pixar in terms of storytelling, and their films are more akin to Saturday morning cartoons than the more sophisticated animated fare of today (which is why the cluttered plot is a little more forgivable here than it would be elsewhere). Their animation style has always been distinctly exaggerated, what with Gru’s hunched back, goblin nose, and non-existent neck. And Illumination’s stories have always been more focused on the gags than the stories themselves.

That’s all as true here as it’s ever been. The animation is beautifully constructed, but the characters are a wide assortment of the cutesy and the quirky, and the more cartoonish tone means that the character’s can move in such exaggerated ways that it’s often hilarious just to see them in motion.

While the plot may stumble, it’s filled with many elements that, on their own, are quite entertaining. The Minions’ misadventures away from Gru, while maybe a bit sidetracking, provides some good laughs. And Balthazar Bratt has become my favorite character in the franchise, with his indelible 80s gimmick that’s present in both his appearance and actions – from playing iconic 80s tunes to accompany his crimes to feeling the need to spout his cheesy catchphrase every time he’s pulled off a heist (“I’ve been a bad boy!”) – the mullet-adorned villain is a constant show-stealer.

If you liked either of the previous Despicable Me movies, then no doubt you’ll enjoy Despicable Me 3. If you’re craving a more intellectually or emotionally stimulating animated feature, you’d best look elsewhere. But if you just want to soak in some colorful,  cartoonish silliness, then Gru and company once again succeed in providing the laughs.



Minions Review


The Minions, the self-explanatory henchmen of the “despicable” villain Gru, were the breakout stars of the Despicable Me movies. With their fun character designs (simple enough for a kid to draw, but flexible enough to give them variety), gibberish speech and cartoonish antics, it’s not hard to see why the Minions have won audiences over. It was only inevitable that they’d end up with their own movie. The only question is how well could these show-stealing sidekicks carry a movie on their own?

That’s a question that, in a lot of ways, still has yet to be answered. The Minions may get the title role this time around, but they end up sharing much of their screen time with various human characters, with latter parts of the movie in particular focusing on the super villain Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock).

The story serves as both a prequel to the Despicable Me series and an origin story for the Minions. It turns out the Minions are as old as life on Earth, and their only natural instinct is to serve the baddest boss they can find. Through many millennia, they’ve served the likes of a T-Rex, a caveman, the pharaohs of Egypt, Count Dracula, and even Napoleon. But the Minions aren’t always good at their job, and have caused the accidental demise of these past masters, leaving them to search for a new master for extended periods of time whenever they bump off an old one. Fearing they simply aren’t good enough to serve a master, the Minions isolate themselves in Antarctica. But without a master to serve, the Minions have no purpose and fall into depression.

In order to save his fellow Minions, a tall Minion by the name of Kevin decides to search the world for the baddest boss he can find. He is accompanied by the short Minion named Bob and the cycloptic Minion named Stuart in a quest that ultimately takes them to 1960s New York, Florida and England.

MinionsThat serves as the setup for Minions, and it is arguably the most consistent portion of the film, as its segmented nature works wonderfully for the Minions’ comedy. The rest of the movie has its share of humor, but in trying to make a bigger plot, it often feels like it doesn’t know what to do with itself.

The Minions themselves remain a highlight, as their often-bizarre mannerisms and speech have yet to wear thin. Kevin, Stuart and Bob keep the comedy strong even in the movie’s weaker moments. So while ‘Minions’ may stumble in regards to storytelling, the lighthearted nature of the titular characters themselves should keep audiences entertained, with plenty of jokes aimed at both children and the adult crowd.

The problem with this Minions spinoff is that it often feels like the filmmakers didn’t quite have full faith in the Minions to carry their own movie, so more human characters are added in an attempt to keep the story tighter. Unfortunately, the people they end up interacting with aren’t particularly memorable. This is especially the case with Scarlet Overkill, who seemingly steals the spotlight from the Minions during the film’s second half. Though Sandra Bullock’s voice work is well done, the character herself is neither funny or memorable enough to justify the movie’s shift of focus to her. The character at first shows promise (she flies into a villain convention via rocket-propelled dress) but she ultimately lacks any standout character features other than her presentation.

MinionsWhen the movie works it’s a lot of laughs, but the story ends up feeling too thin for for its own good, with too many scenes feeling like padding. Some fans of the overall franchise may not be too upset by Minions’ relatively shallow storytelling. After all, the Despicable Me movies are far from animated masterpieces, emphasizing cartoonish silliness over deeper storytelling. But the Despicable Me movies at least employed a bit of heart into the mix. They may not have been thematically rich, but they added some sentiment to go with the gags, and that isn’t found here.

Some might say that the nonsensical nature of the Minions might not lend itself to anything more than slapstick. If this movie were strictly focused on the Minions that may be a good point, but with so much attention given to the human characters, you kind of wish that the filmmakers would have continued what they did with the Despicable Me films, instead of minimizing the characters’ personalities to simple punchlines.

If I sound largely negative, I apologize. Minions is a fun movie with a lot of humor, and its titular characters still have some charm. But it isn’t quite the Minion-centric extravaganza we may have hoped for, nor is it quite on equal footing with its Despicable Me predecessors. It does, however, provide enough Minion-y goodness to make for some decent entertainment, particularly for younger audiences. At the very least, it’s a nice appetizer for Despicable Me 3.



Despicable Me 2 Review

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 should be a treat to anyone who was a fan of the first movie in the series. It shares the same sense of humor and fun that made the original so enjoyable. It does try to aim a little higher with its plot, and admittedly it doesn’t always hit the mark. But when it does miss, it at least lands right back to the levels of its predecessor, never lower.

Despicable Me 2 begins with Gru (Steve Carrel) , now a former supervillain, trying to adjust to being a family man. His life of crime is in his past, now his adopted daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes are his priority, and even his army of Minions spend their time helping Gru with his parenting. Gru’s henchman, Dr. Nefario, begins to miss working for a supervillain, so he and Gru part ways so that Nefario can find work elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Gru is reluctantly recruited into joining the Anti-Villain League, who seek his help as a former villain to uncover a mysterious plot. He is joined by fellow AVL agent Lucy Wilde (Kristin Wiig), a quirky and eccentric woman who serves as a great foil to the more cantankerous Gru.Despicable Me 2

Like its predecessor, Despicable Me 2 isn’t a groundbreaking animated feature by any means, but it does try to tell a bigger a story. It plays up many of the popular aspects of the original, with the Minions in particular getting a more prominent role in the plot (and somehow never feeling like they’re just taking time away from the main characters). This film’s villain, El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), is more fun than the baddies of the first film. Best of all, the humor and slapstick remains, and maintains all the energy and enthusiasm of the original.

The downsides to Despicable Me 2 are the side stories, which seem underdeveloped for many parts of the film, and capped off with abrupt conclusions. Dr. Nefario seems to switch his moral allegiances whenever it’s convenient for the plot, Margo gets a crush on El Macho’s son in a subplot that seems written off without any real resolution, and Gru forms a romance with Lucy that, while not without its sweet moments, feels a bit fragmented with everything else going on in the plot.Despicable Me 2

The subplots prove that Despicable Me 2 is perhaps working with more than it knows what to do with, but it never falls completely on its face. It’s fun and funny enough to make you not care much about its missteps.

Like its predecessor, Despicable Me 2 isn’t trying trying to be anything more than it is. It may not always know what to do with all its pieces, but it tinkers around with them in fun ways, and ties them all together with colorful animation, a good sense of humor, and all those wonderful Minions.



Despicable Me Review

Despicable Me

Despicable Me is not the most ambitious of animated films. It’s more interested with simple slapstick and humorous scenarios than it is with telling a compelling story. And that’s perfectly okay, as Despicable Me seems to aspire more to being a cartoon than an animated masterpiece. In this sense, it succeeds.

Despicable Me is a fun movie. Its ‘hero’ is Gru (Steve Carrel), who is in fact a James Bond-style evil genius. He’s not entirely good at his job, as his fellow super villains seem to outperform his every last villainous scheme. When a rival villain steals the Great Pyramid of Giza – a criminal act described as “making all other villains look lame” – Gru decides to up his ante by hatching a plot to steal the moon itself.Despicable Me

Through a series of events, Gru also finds himself adopting three young girls from an orphanage; Margo, Edith and Agnes, which might just have him rethink his villainous life choices.

The story never attempts to break any conventions, but again, this is a film primarily about the laughs. It does include enough heart and wit to prevent it from simply being cartoonish nonsense, but it’s perfectly content with its simplicity. It doesn’t seek to have the heavy emotional aspects of an animated classic, it just wants to have a good time.

It would be hard not to have such a good time with a movie like Despicable Me. It’s unpretentious, and it’s more slick than snarky. Gru himself is a likable enough guy, he’s only a villain because he wants to win an award, not to cause any real damage. His adopted daughters are cute without ever becoming too obnoxious (unless it’s the butt of a joke, of course), and Gru’s army of Minions – yellow, stubby-shaped, gibberish-speaking… things – are a constant source of hilarious nonsense.Despicable Me

What Despicable Me lacks in ambition it makes up for in simple fun. It’s not waging its fingers at anybody and it never bombards audiences with pop-culture references, it only ever relies on its own hilarity to provide a good time.

If you go into Despicable Me hoping for a Toy Story or Finding Nemo, you may be disappointed. But if you’re a fan of the likes of Looney Tunes or Spongebob Squarepants, than Despicable Me should provide similar delights, but with just a tad more heart and sentiment to it.

Despicable Me takes the laughs, thrills and fun of a Saturday morning cartoon and successfully creates a feature length film out of them. It boasts colorful animation and cartoony character designs, which compliment the movie’s rambunctious attitude. Despicable Me never aims to be anything more than what it is, and what it is is a sweet, simple and delightfully sugary good time.