**1/2 out of ****
(for some action / violence and rude humor)
Released: July 1, 2022
Runtime: 87 minutes
Directed by: Kyle Balda
Starring: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson, Michelle Yeoh, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless, Will Arnett, Steve Coogan
Nothing objectionable. Completely disposable. Admirably nonsensical.
Those adjectives are far from sentiments found in a rave review (let alone the hallmarks of a timeless classic) but, in today’s polarizing cultural climate, it’s probably the best that families can hope for from an animated movie – and zany mediocrity is exactly what Minions: The Rise of Gru delivers.
It’s the latest entry in the hugely successful Despicable Me Universe, a blockbuster animated franchise from Illumination Studios that consists of five movies (now six). Combined, the series thus far has grossed a mammoth $3.7 billion worldwide, with its top earner being the $1.15 billion hauled in by 2015’s Minions (the prequel spinoff about Gru’s cuddly yellow henchmen).
Continuing the prequel timeline, Minions: The Rise of Gru essentially pics up where Minions left off, transitioning from a Minions origin story to a Gru origin story (Gru, of course, being the star of Despicable Me’s 1, 2 and 3 who the Minions dutifully serve).
Now it’s 1976 and Gru (sort of a Dr. Evil for kids) is just 11-years-old, but his aspirations of super-villainy are already at a peak. Still voiced by Steve Carell (but now at a higher pitch with hyper energy), Gru looks to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when an opening occurs within the villain supergroup Vicious 6. Hijinks ensue.
Bond-riffs and wild tech gadgetry are on display, as you’d expect, as is the gleeful assault of physical comedy, all in a vibrant color palette. Like its predecessors, Rise of Gru is engineered to make kids either giggle at silliness or laugh at broad slapstick, done at a relentless pace that will eventually grow tiresome for almost anyone aged 13-and-up.
From humor to heart, nothing here is sophisticated. Everything’s rote. Yet if Rise of Gru has a charm (and it does), it’s in that it has absolutely no edge to it. If anything, the fact that Rise of Gru (and the Despicable franchise as a whole) doesn’t try to sneak in anything resembling Adult Humor is a welcome form of age appropriate simplicity.
If the kids are having fun and the parents aren’t worried about having to explain anything that could be categorized as mature, then both are happy. Rest assured, both will be happy with Rise of Gru.
Indeed, this is where Illumination Studios has succeeded where DreamWorks Animation failed. Despite some big successes in the early 2000s, DreamWorks wasn’t able to sustain its reign because the studio became too subversive (and pop culture reliant) for its own good.
Illumination picked up the torch as the wacky alternative to Pixar studios. Over the past decade-plus, with other hits including The Secrets Lives of Pets and Sing movies, they’ve reached Disney-level heights of box office success by embracing innocence. Sure, their movies avoid anything meaningful, but they also avoid anything controversial.
Loud, fast, and colorful, and harmlessly obnoxious. That’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, and that’s good enough.