Steve Carell is fun as the voice of supervillain Gru but let’s face it, the $4.5 billion-grossing Despicable Me franchise owes most of that loot to its banana-coloured, pellet-shaped Minions. They’re pure comedy crack for wee’uns – even if their gibberish-spouting antics have driven one or two grown-ups to the edge over their four movies to date.
Movie number five – the origin-story sequel to the spin-off, if you’re keeping track – tosses a bone or two to the accompanying adults of a certain age with its sparky ’70s setting, a soundtrack full of needle drops, and at least one good gag involving a rotary phone.
Like 2015’s Minions, it’s set before the events of the Despicable Me films – shifting a decade forward from the 1960s to disco-era 1976, and reintroducing Gru (still voiced by Carell) as an 11¾-year-old schoolboy with aspirations to evil.
Below a vinyl emporium called Criminal Records are the villains he wants to join: the Vicious 6, a DC-esque band of superbads led by Taraji P Henson’s disco diva Belle Bottom and featuring a motley crew of pun-tastic baddies (pick of the bunch? The lobster-handed Jean Clawed, voiced by, yes, Jean-Claude Van Damme).
Botching his interview, Gru makes off with their supernatural amulet, hoping to prove his villainous bona fides, but instead setting in motion a helter-skelter abduction and rescue mission that shows what his brand-new yellow helpers are capable of. Which, needless to say, is not much.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is at its best when it embraces the Looney Tunes spirit of those little helpers, pausing to watch them clonk each other with mallets or hijack a commercial airliner. (Yes, I know it’s only an animation but you will never want to fly anywhere again.)
It’s at its best when it embraces the Looney Tunes spirit of those little yellow helpers
The ’70s pop culture references come thick and fast – there are nods to everything from Midnight Cowboy to Jaws – even if they often feel a little detached from the story. Much better is a soundtrack rifles through your dad’s vinyl stack to unleash new covers of ‘All the Young Dudes’, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and ‘Funky Town’ from the likes of Thundercat and Caroline Polachek.
The biggest let-down is a plot revolving around an ancient Chinese McGuffin of limited interest. It all culminates in a Chinatown showdown and plays more like a bid for market share in Asia than an exciting plot device. Not that your kids will give a hoot about that. They’ll be too busy chuckling at the bit with the jackhammer.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is in cinemas worldwide on Jul 1.