This kind of thing happens all the time, especially with animated movies that are
directed towards kids.
The main character of a particular film is overlooked and surpassed in favor of a more charismatic supporting character (or, in this case, characters).
It happened in the Disney classic “The Lion King” with the Odd Couple-type duo of Timon and Pumba outshining the titular character of Simba.
It happened in “Shrek,” in which Eddie Murphy successfully brought the character of Donkey (or as Shrek calls him – Doon-kay) to life and completely overpowered Mike Myers (which isn’t easy) and his portrayal of the lovable green ogre.
And, that dog from “Up” was pretty funny. You know, the one who had the collar on that let him speak in words, instead of barks. I seriously had to rewind that scene where he abruptly shouted, “SQUIRELL!” about ten times when I first saw it.
Even a character like the spunky fairy Tinkerbell from another Disney classic “Peter Pan,” is far more revered than Wendy, Michael, John and even Peter Pan.
And I won’t even get into how popular some of the villains in these films become. I mean nobody remembers any of the 101 Dalmatians from “101 Dalmatians.” They evoke memories of the evil, dognapper Cruella De Vil. And that’s just one such example.
So, what happens when a film creates a group of supporting characters that steal the show AND are bad guys, at the same time?
You get those yellow, bean-shaped troublemakers known as the Minions from “Despicable Me,” that’s what.
These little guys grew (in popularity, not in size) so large after the release of the first film in 2010 that they forced the filmmakers over at Universal’s Illumination Entertainment to give these rowdy, hard-to-classify… uhh… things their very own animated shorts to star in with “Despicable Me Presents: Minion Madness” and “Despicable Me Presents: Minion Mayhem 3D.” They even got their own ride at the Universal Studios theme park, which also called “Minion Madness.” They are the stars of their own “Temple Run” style video game app called “Minion Rush.” Plus, whenever you see a plush toy, a lunchbox, a t-shirt, or any other licensed item from the film, the Minions are all over it. And, to top it all off, according to IMDB, the Minions have their own movie coming out during Christmas time in 2014, which is simply called… ready for this… “Minions.”
This whole obsession with these gibberish-speaking (when they speak they sound a little bit like a cross between Italian and pig Latin), overall-sporting, goggle-wearing (some have one eye, some have two), banana-hued (BANANA!), two-foot high balls of energy wouldn’t be such a big deal… if they were technically the stars of the first “Despicable Me.”
But, they weren’t. That honor goes to – another character with a weird accent you just can’t quite put your finger on – the evil super villain hell bent on world
domination, Gru. The pointy-nosed, baldheaded Gru (voiced masterfully by Steve Carell) spent the first movie incorporating both his Minions and his loyal assistant Dr. Nefario (voiced by a hard-to-recognize and surprisingly tame Russell Brand) in his plot to shrink down the moon (yes, that moon) and put it in his pocket. Along the way, Gru comes across three cute, little orphans named Margo, Edith and Agnes, who were selling girl scouts to Gru’s archrival Vector, while Gru attempted to steal back his shrink ray from Vector after Vector stole it from him. Got that?
Regardless, this is literally all the plot and character information you need to know from the first film. Basically, if you know that there’s a super villain named Gru who lives in a suburban neighborhood within his villainous lair. He has three girls that he plays the “single dad” role for, a bunch of Minions running around in the secret underground section of his “lair,” and still sometimes gets the itch to do bad guy things once in a while.
You have to give it up for directors Pierre Coffin (who also brilliantly handles the voices for the Minions) and Chris Renaud, who try really hard to bring the focus back to Gru and the three girls in “Despicable Me 2,” but – I’m sorry – they just aren’t that interesting.
This is especially true since the primary theme of “Part 2” can be summed up simply by using the lyrics to a Michael Bolton ballad, “Love is a Wonderful Thing.” Yes, you read that right, “Despicable Me 2” is essentially a love story – for a number of different characters in the film. In fact, I’m pretty sure that about 4 out every 5 characters in the film have love interests, which, I believe, is a record for an animated movie.
Okay, so there’s the supposed main storyline, in which some bad guy (that’s apparently more despicable than Gru) uses a giant magnet to steal an entire laboratory, with the sole purpose of getting their hands on the fancy, mutating serum that’s in it, so they can… you guessed it… rule the world. To stop the villain, Gru is recruited out of retirement (in the beginning of the film, he hilariously hosts a “fairy princess-themed” party for his youngest daughter) by the Anti-Villain League (AVL for short) to help stop this unknown baddie.
This is the cue for Gru’s love interest to make her appearance in the form of AVL agent Lucy Wild, who is regrettably played by a surprisingly unfunny Kristen Wiig in her most-forgettable role to date. In fact, this film has a slew of very funny actors or actresses that are given virtually nothing to work with, humor-wise, as far as their characters go. The list includes the normally hilarious Steve Coogan as the walking, one-note fat joke – AVL Director Silas Ramsbottom (at least the Minions thought his last name was funny). The one performer that could have added so much more to the proceedings was Moises Arias (who was absolutely brilliant as the off-the-wall Biaggio in one of the year’s best films so far, “The Kings of Summer”), who was given nada to work with as Antonio – a Latino teenage lothario that makes a play for Gru’s oldest daughter.
Which brings me to the villain – I mean besides Gru – the notorious and manly El Macho (voiced by Benjamin Bratt, who took over for Al Pacino after apparent “creative differences”). This character has his ups-and-downs. On the one hand, some of the stories that Gru tells about El Macho – including how he supposedly met his demise (everyone thinks he’s dead) by… well… I can’t spoil it for you, but it certainly is a macho way to go – are hilarious. But, when push comes to shove, he just isn’t as villainous as the first movie’s antagonist – Vector (voiced by Jason Segel) – was. That being said, El Macho does do something to the Minion population which (again, I won’t spoil for you) makes up for all of his character’s shortcomings.
Uh-oh, I mentioned the Minions again. Let’s face it, no matter how many plot
twists and story lines, star cameos and romances (although, one of the Minions ALSO falls in love with Agent Wild – I don’t see the attraction) and clever gadgets and action sequences you stuff into the 90+ minutes of this inevitable sequel, it simply is miles away from the entertainment level that those strangely-hypnotic Minions provide.
Those little guys are simply… too… damn… hilarious. And the makers of this film know it, too. That’s why they give them all of the endorsements and publicity. In fact, if you look at the movie poster for “Despicable Me 2,” it’s not Gru on the one-sheet. Instead, it’s two Minions – one with two eyes, the other with one eye – staring back at you.
I just hope they don’t let all that success go their heads and wind up in jail, rehab or worse – dating Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez or some other child singer/star. We’ll just have to cross our fingers that they can stay sane and sober – we all know the alternative.
I mean, have you seen Timon and Pumba lately? Tragic.
But it really doesn’t matter about who the Minions date or who is funny and who isn’t in their roles. All that matters, when it comes to movies aimed at kids, are two, very important things.
Number One: Will kids like the movie and laugh at the jokes?
Number Two: Will adults tolerate the movie when they take their kids to see it?
In all honesty, despite all of its flaws and faults, both the adults on my left-side
and the kids on my right were laughing hysterically throughout the entire film. It didn’t matter if the Minions were onscreen or not, the chuckles flowed fluidly (although, they did get increasingly louder when the Minions were onscreen, but I digress).
So, if both the first and second questions receive positive answers, doesn’t that mean that “Despicable Me 2” will be a success? We’ll see. But, in the grand scheme of things – who cares?
There’s already a release date for Part 3, as we speak.