“Minions” move to a Boomer Groove — The musical needle-drop laughs of “The Rise of Gru”

Steve Carell gave away the game about “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” during his interview with Seth Meyers the other night. It’s not just a movie for kids and their parents, but “grandparents” might give some thought to volunteering to take the grand-tykes to this one.

It’s set in the ’70s. The Minions have always gotten laughs by singing their screwball gibberish versions of “original hits.” See the above clip from “Despicable Me 2.” As in the earlier films, most of the needle-drop musical moment laughs in it come straight out of that garish, dopey, “classic rock” era. And they can be hilarious.

These songs have become enduring motifs that cross generations, with even “OK, Boomer” 20 year-olds recognizing, or almost recognizing them. Some have been used in scores of movies and are so omnipresent that they’re in our DNA.

What’s that melody that’s a ’70s Minions version of “Whistle While You Work?” It’s this one, only sung in gibberish.

The setting of “The Rise of Gru” is ostensibly 1976. Disco! “Funkytown” time, K.C. and the Sunshine Band have their moment, as does this unlikely hit from a mirror-ball/polyester era.

The ’70s were a great era in soul music, generously sampled in the background and foreground, often played for ironic laughs. “Hollywood Swingers,” Miss Diana Ross…

Like many of the songs slapped in there, Universal and Illumination used cover versions. Most of us prefer the originals.

And what’s a classic rock era comedy without some actual classic rock? Credence Clearwater Revival, “Black Magic Woman,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” Steve Miller and hell’s bells, this little taste of Bowie and Mott the You-Know-Who.

There’s a lot of music that doesn’t fit the era, “Sabotage” by Los Beastie Boys, And RZA playfully plays a Hendrix look-alike biker who figures in the plot, so his “Kung Fu Suite” features in the score. This one is covered on the soundtrack, but begins in its original Karen Carpenter alto in the film.

A cover of “Instant Karma” here, a Minions-gibberish funeral ballad there. This song first popped up in that context, sung by the original bad boys of rock, way back in the Boomer classic, “The Big Chill.” It’s still sad in such a setting, but the gibberish makes it amusingly ridiculous.

“Rise of Gru” has those tunes, and more, used mostly for laughs. Fold in a few hundred sight gags, manic action, jokes and punchlines.

“Don’t CHEESE me, bro!”

The payoff is, as I called it, “a film of demented genius,” and that Variety rightly labels “the funniest movie of the year.”

OK, Boomers. What’re you waiting for? Sure it’s a cartoon, but you don’t need the grandkids to have an excuse to go. OK, maybe you do, so here it is — that excuse.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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