It’s been half a decade since the world of Despicable Me has been seen or visited to. Besides nearly every square inch of Universal theme parks. A world where supervillains exist in everyday life and operate in plain sight. The first film, released in 2010 introduced the world to the bank of evil, among other villainy, where these so-called villains are allowed to take out loans to carry out their evil deeds – stealing the moon is but one example. 12 years later and a spinoff series that has kept the IP in the public eye, the next entry in the Despicable Me franchise is the follow up to the 2015 movie Minions. If it wasn’t for the 3 adopted girls in the main series, the charismatic, silly, gibberish speaking yellow creatures stole the hearts of everyone who saw them frantically cause chaos around them.
Little yellow pill shaped creatures who wear denim overalls and have human names like Bob, Kevin, Stuart, and Otto (voiced by Pierre Coffin). Creatures that have become non-Disney cultural icons for Illumination studios, the studio that brought Despicable Me to the masses.
The last time we encountered the minions, they have come across a young aspiring villain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) after defeating their previous master Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) which is where The Rise of Gru starts its story. Opening the film is an homage to two legendary franchises – one where the villainous organization known as the Vicious 6 steal an amulet that houses zodiac powers in a similar sense that Raiders of the Lost Arc begins which then transitions into an opening song and dance number like James Bond has done the previous 60 years. Not directly copying, the Minions add their own chaotic flair with one signing in their native Minionese.
The Rise of Gru is chock full of references and Easter eggs to pop culture – about midway a Spielberg Catch Me If you Can inspired scene is used perfectly. It begs the question, do the minions love classic adventure and spy thrillers and are apt cinephiles?
With the Vicious 6 lead by Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Hensen), clever play on names for the entire group, openly recruiting a new member, Gru is invited to interview at their headquarters Criminal Records (pretty solid name for a record store) where Gru is turned away. Looking to make an impression that would secure his spot in the Vicious 6, Gru steals the amulet right from under the remaining 5 villains noses leading to a cross country man hunt to retrieve the amulet and secure their destiny.
Along the way, The Rise of Gru splits it’s story written by Matthew Fogel and Brian Lynch between Gru and 4 Minions who go on a cross country trek with a few detours along the way. At only 88 minutes, much of Rise of Gru remains surface level between the main narrative, developing the villains and the subplots – director Kyle Balda nor Illumination need to sell the audience on the shenanigans the Minions can get caught up in – it’s the journey that makes the lasting impression time after time.
How can the Minions be used this go round that keeps the story fresh? This time it’s with the highlight of the film when Kevin, Stuart, and Bob get rescued by a kung fu fighter moonlighting as an acupuncturist Master Chow (voiced by Michelle Yeoh). The Minions are at their most comedic when leaning heavily on the Three Stooges slapstick. In many ways, the Minions are the animated reincarnation of the Stooges – willing to blow each other up or bang another’s head on a piece of wood for the sake of a laugh by the crowd and Gru’s approval.
Appealing mostly to the younger audience, enough jokes and laughs that will sail over a younger viewer will cast a wider net to an older audience who get drawn in by the ensemble coming together to bring these characters to life. After 12 years, becoming invested in these creatures is easy enough. Steve Carell leads the talented voice cast with a higher pitched voice that sometimes breaks but still is believable as a younger adolescent version of his moon stealing self.
When the story takes a rare breather and slows down, the script relies on the notoriety of the franchise. It was only a matter of time in this story that Gru would meet Dr. Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand), a remixed version of the main song by Pharrell in the original film will play and seeing a picture of his future nemesis Vector will trigger the impending rivalry. These multiple film franchises tend to be more contained than expansive to remind folks of the glory days.
But still, for a non-Disney nor Pixar franchise, Despicable Me has hung around with no signs of slowing down. Why should it? Attracting villains to go up against Gru and his army of Minions that include names like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Alan Arkin, the series has no set limit. No matter how many films are made, the cult following will show up in their denim wearing yellow cosplay. A little competition never hurt anybody. 5 films and billions of dollars at the box office is too lucrative an opportunity to pass up. For what it is, The Rise of Gru is a silly time at the theater to just kick back and not put too much thought into it. A fine entry in the franchise.
Written By: Matthew Fogel
Story By: Matthew Fogel & Bryan Lynch
Directed By: Kyle Balda
Music By: Heitor Pereira
Starring: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Taraji P. Hensen, Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Alan Arkin, RZA, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo
Release Date: July 1, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 28 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%