A Long Winded Rant About the ‘Minions’ Movie (and the Trend They Represent)
The sheer amount of laziness and pointlessness behind this movie pisses me off more than it reasonably should. Yes, it’s just a kids movie and who cares, but I really hate what this movie represents. Let me explain.
(If you don’t care about all the film theory stuff, skip down to the picture with the bananas. That’s were the rant gains focus.)
There are three ways to make a movie in the modern system. You can follow genre convention and put out a fun ‘popcorn’ flick that won’t challenge the viewer but leave them happy. That’s stuff like The Avengers, Fast and Furious and Star Wars movies. The second option to buck convention and make something based on artistic expression, something that challenges the status quo of film making, art and the viewers themselves. That’s what Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Lars von Tier and the like get up to. Both of these approaches are essential parts of the cinematic landscape. One approach informs the other. Artistic films create innovation for the conventional mainstream films and in turn are challenged to provide something new once what was once new becomes standard. When Saw came out it was fresh, challenging and completely unique. Now it’s a style that’s been done to death in the multiplexes and the new generation of horror film-makers are trying to find the next innovation. It’s the circle of cinematic life.
Then there is the third approach, one favoured by the studio system, which is utterly pointless and provides the viewers with nothing but filler that will be forgotten within a decade and provide fodder for some future incarnation of the Nostalgia Critic. That’s the approach of taking something that has proven popular and capable of selling Happy Meals and making more and more of it with little consideration of the quality so long as people buy it. This is the approach that has lead the product placement stricken, pop culture referencing sequels to Shrek, the abysmal adaptations of Dr. Seuss stories and, most frustrating, the trend of taking the mindless comic relief from movies and trying to spin them off on their own.
Let’s wind back a bit and talk about the problem from a narrative perspective. Those conventional movies I mentioned before? They tend to have a formula. This isn’t a bad thing, it offers a simple framework from which to hang great design elements, characters, performances and dialogue. Star Wars didn’t become popular for having an innovative story but because of the world it created. It followed the adventure movie formula to a tee. You’ve got the reluctant but brave hero on a quest (Luke), the princess in need of rescuing (Leia), the evil villain who forced the heroes hand (Vader) and his band of helpers to help move the story along. These helpers are the support characters who provide skills, information and experience that the hero needs to succeed and generally come in flavours of mentor (Obi-Wan), necessary but untrustworthy (Han) and comic relief (the droids).
It’s really easy to pull out another successful genre film and compare the characters to illustrate how this formula can be applied to any setting. Let’s take Shrek. Luke becomes Shrek, Leia becomes Fiona, Vader becomes Farquaad and Han becomes Donkey and Puss in Boots. How about Pirates of the Caribbean? That basically the same movie in a different setting. Farmer who dreams of becoming a rebel pilot Luke becomes apprentice blacksmith who wants to hunt pirates Will Turner, Princess Leia becomes governors daughter Elizabeth Swan, Darth Vader attacks Luke’s home trying to retrieve his McGuffin just like Barbossa does to Will’s home town and Capt. Jack Sparrow is Han Solo is a fancy hat, right down to having a hairy sidekick.
Everyone loves the Han/Jack/Donkey/Puss character. They tend to be the most popular. They don’t have to get all emotional about the story, they don’t have their motivations dictated by the bad guy for the love interest…they just get to strut around saying cool one liners and being radical.
But what you don’t ever want to do is give them their own movie. When you do that you’re forcing them into the wrong role. Now they have to be the hero and have motivation and investment and all that other stuff that gets in the way of them strutting and being radical. When you do that you end up with crap like this:
That’s the number one reason all of the Pirates sequels failed, because they forgot what roles the characters had to fulfil. They mistook Jack’s popularity with the audience for him being the main character and tried to put him at the centre of the franchise. This would be akin to all the Star Wars sequels becoming the adventures of Han Solo teaming up with Darth Vader while Luke and Leia tailed along after them with nothing to do. That would be a very bad idea indeed.
The only thing that would be worse is if they took the comic relief from the movies and tried to make a quick buck churning out some half-asses production about them aimed at kids.
And now after some 900 words I’m going to get to my main gripe. They keep doing just this. How many people remember Madagascar? It was pretty popular when it came out and produced some number of sequels that I don’t know because I didn’t pay attention to them. What people seem to remember most fondly are the comic relief characters – the Penguins. That’s natural, they garnered the biggest laughs without having to do any of that pesky story stuff in between. They’re the most consistently funny is regards to screen time. So what did the studio do in response?
This isn’t even their first attempt at this. That stupid dancing lemur thing that was voiced by a celebrity cameo got its own knock-off series as well.
The reasoning here seems to be that if a character can shift some cheaply made plastic toys, they warrant their own movie irregardless of how little personality they have. Even if their entire premise is based on regurgitating pop culture references and making farting noises there’s someone out there who’ll green light an multi-million production about it. Yes, I’m talking about Minions.
Do you know why the Minions look the way they do? It’s not for artistic or creative reasons. It’s not even for comedic reasons. It’s for budgetary reasons. In the original design for Despicable Me the minions were referenced as being human. The generic henchmen types you’d see in the Connery era James Bond movies like You Only Live Twice. Makes sense, that’s the kind of image they were parodying. But the studio wouldn’t cough up the budget so the animators had to do two things. First, they had to simplify the design from humanoid down to yellow rabbit droppings. Then they had to reduce their size. That’s how they got minions.
People like the minions. They’re simple and they’re funny for absurd reasons. They’re like that video of He-Man singing ‘What’s Going On’, but with minions the joke runs out quicker. They have no personality. None. Their entire purpose is to bump in to things and make fart noises. You could draw a pair of eyes on to a whoopee cushion and put it in place of the minions and not change the script one word. Occasionally doing a disco dancing routine (why do we still think this is comedy?) is not a personality. I haven’t seen the Minions movie but I’m assuming they’ve had to give them some personality simply to tell a story. I’m guessing there’s a leader one, a silly one and a clumsy, stupid one.
The Minions are awful and in my mind they’ve come to represent all that is lazy and greedy about the movie making business. They are the worst and now they have a shallow, stupid movie (a whopping 54% average rating form audiences) made only to shill more crappy merchandise and it has the audacity to be in cinemas at the same time as Inside Out, a movie done in the same technique for the same audience that is a genuinely moving piece of art. Speaking of of the merchandise, who needs these products?
You need minion sellotape? This is a thing? I was going to comment that people shouldn’t waste their money buying this crap, but on reflection I want to endorse it. If you are a fan of Minions than please go and buy this stuff and wear it every time you leave the house. We need to be able to identify you on sight so we can avoid talking to you. Actually, I want you all to wear this:
This should be a law. Because you deserve it.