With Top Gun: Maverick, Minions: The Rise of Gru is one of the last films initially slated to release in 2020, whose multiple COVID-related delays caused it to release two years later. And now that it’s finally here, it’ll undoubtedly live up to the hype for fans of the Despicable Me franchise or Gru’s (Steve Carell) minion sidekicks (voiced by Pierre Coffin) but likely won’t do much for anyone else.
Running at a lean and mean 87 minutes (79 without credits and a mid-credits scene), Minions: The Rise of Gru zips by from one location to another, as Gru is kidnapped by Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) after stealing a Chinese stone connected to Zodiac animals to impress the Vicious 6 (the five other members are voiced by Taraji P. Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, and Danny Trejo), his favorite supervillain group. However, the Vicious 6 believes Gru is working with Wild Knuckles to activate the stone, even though the whole situation is one giant misunderstanding. So it’s now up to the Minions to rescue Gru, and they’ll train in the art of Kung Fu from Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh) to fight off the Vicious 6, Wild Knuckles, and their henchmen.
Aesthetically, The Rise of Gru is one of Illumination’s best-looking projects. The animation is crisp and detailed, and some visual-heavy sequences are staggering to watch on an IMAX screen. The best scene of the entire movie entails Otto (Coffin) chasing over a biker (RZA) on a toddler tricycle since it uses a brilliant timelapse in the background of a frame while Otto is biking his heart out. Physical comedy with the Minions has always been the franchise’s strong suit, and screenwriter Matthew Fogel is on top form at crafting elaborate physical sketches involving them. One which entails the Minions flying to San Francisco by impersonating airline pilots and a stewardess is the film’s highlight.
The bits involving Yeoh are also hilarious, as it leads to a dynamic climax that builds up what they’ve learned with Master Chow to defeat the Vicious 6. Without giving anything away, it’s arguably the best the Minions have ever been on screen, with its visuals as a perfect complement to their antics. That’s all that should be said because you must see this for yourself, especially if you love the Minions. The small kids at the screening loved it; that scene received the biggest laughs of the entire film, and justifiably so.
Yeoh is terrific as Master Chow, and so are Carell and Arkin, whose chemistry gets surprisingly heartfelt during the film’s tail end. Since he’s a child, director Kyle Balda establishes a father/son relationship between Wild Knuckles and Gru that’s hilarious and will tug at your heartstrings when Knuckles starts to have an affinity for Gru as an aspiring supervillain. It’s a shame that the rest of the voice cast feels wasted, particularly members of the Vicious 6, who have little to no character development.
Jean-Claude Van Damme voices a character named Jean-Clawed, establishing a funny (and self-referential) character. However, he gets virtually nothing to do, just like Lawless, Lundgren, and Trejo, who could’ve been voiced by anyone else. Henson gets the most out of her character, but her motivations as the film’s primary antagonist are paper-thin, rendering the final fight weightless, even if the Minions act as a fun distraction.
But the movie’s brisk runtime hinders any possibility of character development. Minions: The Rise of Gru feels nothing more like a mildly fun distraction. Some funny scenes balance a predictable and paint-by-numbers story that gives us [unnecessary] insight into how Gru met Nefario (Russell Brand) or got the iconic Jet car he used in the first film instead of fleshing out the antagonists to make them more colorful and fun. And while, yes, the Minions are the film’s main focus, having them interact with other characters also means developing them so they can appear more threatening to Gru and the Minions as a whole.
Still, if you’re looking for a film to distract you this week in a cinema, Minions: The Rise of Gru is entirely harmless. Fun gag sequences elevate its formulaic script, which will enchant kids who are looking to see their favorite Minion characters on the big screen again after a two-year wait brought upon by COVID. But those looking for a mature animated film beyond bodily humor and childish jokes should watch Turning Red on Disney+ instead, which is still the best animated movie of the year.