I know it’s “only a sequel,” and “only” a children’s animated film at that.
But “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is a movie of manic, demented genius. It’s a slapsticky/witty, action-and-sight-gag-packed romp of a popcorn movie, a film that delivers more animated laughs than every other kids’ cartoon this year, put together.
Suck on that, Beavis.
Heck, the string of ’70s pop, rock and soul music cues, puns and “Minions Sing the ’70s” giggles utterly outclass both “Sing” movies while rarely delivering a lyric human ears can decipher. Unless, of course, you speak Minion. Feel free to sing along with Paul Simon’s “Cecilia” or the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” if you do.
Nothing against Steve Carell, but who knew Gru, as an adult or in his learning-the-super-villain ropes years in this prequel, works even better as a supporting player? That’s the breakthrough these Minions movies have managed.
Gru, closing in on 11, longs to join the Vicious Six, the best gang of supervillains on the West Coast. It’s 1976, and Blaxploitation baddie Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), wimpled menace Nun-chucks (Lucy Lawless), Strong Hold (Danny Trejo), lobster-legged Jean Clawed (J.C. Van Damme) and Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) work with the wily old Wild Knuckles (Oscar winner Alan Arkin) to steal The Zodiac Stone, a pendant with magical powers.
After their Indiana Jones-style heist, the other five betray Wild Knuckles and leave him for dead. They’ll hold auditions for somebody new to make them “Six” again. Somebody younger. Maybe a lot younger.
They don’t know Gru’s evil plots mostly consist of self-designed stink bombs he tosses into “Jaws” screenings to clear the theater for him and his Minion pals. They might not be impressed with his spray-can cheese gun, used on anybody who stands in their way at the ice cream shop.
“Don’t cheese me, bro!”
Gru is dismissed as a “punk kid” at his job interview, but decides to take Belle Bottom’s sneering “Come back when you’ve done something to IMPRESS me” to heart and swipes the stone.
A Minion loses that stone as they’re making their wild and crazy getaway. The next thing Gru knows, he’s been snatched pretty much right out of his mother’s (Julie Andrews) Tupperware party, with the still-living Wild Knuckles wanting the Zodiac Stone, Belle Bottom and the other Vicious Five also on his trail and the Minions haplessly trying to track kidnapped “Mini-Boss” and hunt down the misplaced stone.
Their efforts will take in a chase-and-then-road trip with a hip biker (RZA), a stolen jetliner to get to San Francisco and martial arts training by acupuncturist and Kung Fu Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh), who is NOT to be taken lightly, in spite of her short, plump appearance.
Her scenes, beating up “bullies” and training the little yellow “tater tots,” steal the picture.
As I mentioned, Gru is kind of sidelined in this outing, which turns out to be a blessing. Most of those big name voice actors aren’t recognizable and have too few lines to register, even if they were.
“Rise of Gru” is kind of frantic and over-the-top violent. But that’s something to embrace. This may be the most wound-up, slo-mo, cartoonish slapstick animated film since the golden Looney Tunes age of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. Bodies and faces distorted by collisions and kicks, eyes bugging out in terror, all vintage Looney touches. The animators even steal gimmicks and action poses/freeze-frames from anime action pictures to make the action even more jaw-dropping and hilarious.
The setting is the campiest decade of them all, and that explains all the “Kung Fu Fighting,” Blaxploitation references and the like. But it also leads to joke after joke made out of the music.
The villains’ lair is beneath a record store cleverly labeled “Criminal Records,” and the password is a Linda Ronstadt hit of the era, “You’re No Good.” But Sunshine Band disco, funk, soul, Carpenters pop, “Fly Like an Eagle” and Rhymin’ Simon all fold into the soundtrack and find a comic foothold here.
The Beastie Boys may not fit, but they’re made to.
It all swirls together in a riot of color, action, deadpan gags and musical and martial arts mayhem, a kids’ movie that rushes by you so fast you won’t want to take a concession stand break. And if you do, you might want to avoid the sugar. The tots, tykes and tweens will be wound up enough without that added pre-diabetic buzz.
Rating: for some action/violence and rude humor
Cast: The voices of Steve Carell, Taraji P. Henson, Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Pierre Coffin, Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Danny Trejo, Dolph Lundgren, RZA, Julie Andrews and Alan Arkin.
Credits: Directed by Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val, scripted by Matthew Fogel. A Universal release, an Illumination film.
Running time: 1:27