‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ Review: They’re Yellow but Not Mellow

The cartoon characters called Minions, sufficiently popular to anchor two ostensibly discrete animated film franchises, are diminutive capsule-shaped yellow yammerers outfitted in goggles and overalls, whose bearing for the most part is simultaneously hyper and insouciant. While one of their number seems a relatively competent D.J., the remainder of this innumerable lot aren’t very adept, especially as henchminions. Kids love them. Parents, as far as one can see, tolerate them.

Their latest outing, directed by Kyle Balda, Brad Abelson and Jonathan Del Val, is “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” in which the arguably epicene creatures again try to help out their master Gru — only, as the title implies, Gru here is a kid and it’s the cartoon 1970s. The movie opens with a nostalgia-inducing, feel-good Earth, Wind and Fire song, no surprise given contemporary movie convention, as the gang called the Vicious Six engages in Indiana-Jones-style high jinks for a heist of a supernatural stone. Double crosses ensue: The Vicious Six try to ax their senior member, Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), and little Gru auditions for the gang, then makes off with the aforementioned stone after being insulted by the baddies.

The title characters have classic toon precedent — remember the maladroit elves in Tex Avery’s 1950 “The Peachy Cobbler,” or the gremlin in that Bugs Bunny cartoon? The peculiar nonchalance of the Minions is funniest when they hijack an aircraft and successfully fly it to San Francisco without having a clue as to what they’re doing.

Throughout, the gang speaks speedy gibberish derived from at least six recognizable European languages — a westernized variant of Stitch-speak, maybe. Michelle Yeoh lends her voice to a character who’s both Kung Fu master and acupuncturist. And that’s all, folks — amiable and colorful as it is, the movie is also spectacularly inconsequential.

Minions: The Rise of Gru
Rated PG for action, violence and rude humor. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. In theaters.