Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Minions": Blatant Brand Management

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I’ve never really understood the appeal of the Minions as the pop culture icons that they have somehow become.  Despicable Me was an alright movie, but I didn’t think that it was anything especially fantastic, and the Minions, while not the worst mascot characters in children’s movie history, didn’t strike me as particularly unique in their execution.  Maybe it’s their design, which seems to click with the public as generic enough to be easily marketable, yet elastic enough to allow for different numbers of eyes and varying body heights and widths, creating the illusion of variety without actually needing to create actual characters.  More than anything, though, Minions seem to work best as a horde of slapstick comedians, and their first solo spin-off finds itself lacking in that department.

The main problem seems to stem from the fact that the story is constrained to three minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob.  Filling out the roles of the leader, the goofball, and the naïve child respectively, these three aren’t particularly interesting as characters.  Their babbling dialect does not allow for much in the way of character development, so the film must rely on a constantly changing plot in order to keep a frenetic pace.  What starts as a hero’s journey to seek out a new villain to serve quickly turns into serving a villain by stealing the queen’s crown, and then takes a few turns later on that never feel organic to any sort of narrative structure but seem only to set up some uninspired animated action setpieces.  Narratively, it’s a bit of a mess.

This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the film were committed to delivering some cartoon antics, but it never seems to have enough faith in its audience to allow the Minions to do their thing without an overabundance of exposition.  One of the great things about cartoons (as already demonstrated in this year’s Shawn the Sheep Movie) is that the great variety of emotive range and slapstick invulnerability of their characters can allow for a wide range of nonverbal storytelling options.  While I was never expecting a Minions movie to be entirely speechless (due to human characters and the incessant babbling of the Minions themselves), the Minions’ strength is in their clumsiness, which the film neuters with a domineering narration track in the first few scenes and constant third-party explanation of the Minion trio’s goals and obstacles throughout the remainder.  This isn’t a film that puts much faith in the intelligence of its audience, to a point where it is pretty insulting, even for a kid flick.

Ultimately, if you had any interest in Minions, you already saw it in theaters and bought all the attendant merchandise.  Because that was the point: to act as the most blatant form of brand management.  The film skates by on lackluster presentation and storytelling, but keeps the Minions in recognizable form to remind us all that the brand still exists and will continue to exist as long as we keep buying stuff with Minion faces on it.  Franchise branding is the name of the game for children’s films, but rarely is it so lazily blatant.  If you are a fan of the Minions, my opinion doesn’t really matter.  For everyone else, you aren’t really missing anything as far as I’m concerned.

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