Minions: The Rise of Gru Is Surprisingly Charming for a Fever Dream about Yellow Blobs

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Minions: The Rise of Gru Is Surprisingly Charming for a Fever Dream about Yellow Blobs

As I watched Minions: The Rise of Gru in a theater that gave out complimentary crayons and kid’s menus, I periodically found myself staring at the screen and thinking: “Is this really happening?” This occurred a couple times. Once, when a nun villain named Nunchucks levitates out of a room; once, during an alligator attack that comes out of nowhere; and, of course, for the entirety of the scene where the Minions hijack a commercial airplane.

By now we’ve grown used to animated films possessing a million cuts per minute, wall-to-wall sound design and non-stop frenetic energy. But The Rise of Gru’s hysteria is simply on another level. Directed by Kyle Balda, the fifth entry in the beloved Despicable Me franchise tracks the exhausting origin story of supervillain Gru (Steve Carell).

What kicks this adventure into action is Gru’s decision to apply for the Vicious 6, the most badass villain supergroup since the Crime Syndicate of America. But the doe-eyed 12-year-old is quickly shut down by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), the fiery leader of the squad, who tells Gru to come back when he can really impress her. So, the young scoundrel does what any good aspiring villain would do, stealing the priceless Zodiac Stone from the Vicious 6’s lair.

The remainder of the film sees Gru flee from the Vicious 6, while his faithful little Minions do everything in their power to bring their “little boss” back; and yes, you can bet they run into quite a few obstacles along the way! There’s kung-fu, there’s San Francisco and there’s a man-lobster hybrid, in addition to just about anything else the creators want to stick in there, no matter how much they have to disfigure the story to make that happen.

While a lot of this stuff is undeniably enjoyable, it also resembles a frenzied fever dream. Once the action really gets going, Gru accumulates more storylines than Magnolia—storylines that spring into being, and then dissolve for inexplicable and inconsequential reasons.

If I had to guess, this is a product of two things. One, the franchise creators are well aware that, five movies in, their material is running thin. So instead of crafting a real, sustainable plot, they throw a handful of manic vignettes against the wall and hope at least some of them stick. (To be fair, many of them do, like the poor little Minion forced to navigate Death Valley on his own.) Two, the powers-that-be know that their target audience doesn’t exactly have the world’s longest attention span.

This second point comes through especially in the film’s visuals. Not only does every frame pop with an intense explosion of color, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a shot that lasts for more than three seconds. Having said that, Gru’s vehicles and giant creatures possess a very real, robust weight, the bustling streets of San Francisco blush with pastels and intricate structures (probably looking the best they ever have in a film); hell, even the freaking Minions are texturally magnificent in their own strange way.

The complex and hearty visuals would have been more than enough to keep Gru’s audiences entertained. But Balda and screenwriter Matthew Fogel insist on jam-packing the story to its absolute breaking point. It doesn’t help that the Minions speak in absolute gibberish the entire time. And—I’m so sorry to do this—we really have to stop stalling and just talk about the Minions already. Let’s start with a simple one: What the hell are they? Are they Twinkies? Tic Tacs? Sponges? Beauty blenders? Why so much denim? Why do they have such human butts? Why are they on so many kitchen mugs and boomer Facebook memes?

Perhaps I’ll never have the answer to these questions, but after watching Gru, I felt as though I was finally starting to get a grasp on our society’s bizarre infatuation with Minions. Not only are they incredibly sweet and loyal in a genuinely touching way, but their strange little mushy bodies lend themselves well to physical comedy. One of the Minions gets his goggles embedded in his face during a kung fu stunt, and when he pops them back out, it’s ASMR-level satisfying. The purpose of the Minions may be that they are the epitome of visual comfort, sort of like those mildly eerie baby sensory videos.

This, paired with its irrefutable sweetness, sometimes makes Gru worth watching. Yes, it veers on a total frenzied nightmare at times. But hey, what did you really expect from another Minions movie?

Director: Kyle Balda
Writer: Matthew Fogel
Stars: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Taraji P. Henson, Michelle Yeoh, RZA, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Alan Arkin
Release Date: July 1, 2022

Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.

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