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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Minions-The Rise of Gru, Review: One in a minion

Minions-The Rise of Gru, Review: One in a minion

Minion and Villain don’t rhyme. They shouldn’t. After all, what is a primary school kid doing? Yes, he is almost a dwarf, and we would love to see his rise. But rise as what? An arch-villain? A super-villain? There are some movies in which good, clean, animation fun turns into adult stuff that can affect the mind-set of millions of viewers. Films need not preach or moralise, but they need not glorify villainy either. This is one such venture. Gru’s has a retinue of minions and his idols are the biggest baddies who go under the nom de plume of the Vicious Six, comprising four men and two women, one of them a nun. Which gives rise to a pun. But it’s not fun that the film delivers; it glorifies villainy and hails the rise of the new recruit, named Gru. Amidst the usual chases and heists, you feel it was time Gru grew-up. Sadly, he doesn’t, and a sequel might be staring at us.

Belle Bottom wreaks havoc on the streets with her motor-cycle and ropes, and reaches her HQ, where their leader is planning a mission. Hard Knuckles, the aging leader of the Vicious Six, orchestrates the theft of an ancient set of diamonds studded in a necklace, from its secret hideout, in the middle of nowhere, with absolute ease. He is chased by some tiny creatures, who are the guardians of the booty, but they prove no match for him, as he clings on to a rope thrown by Belle Bottom, from a helicopter-like contraption. However, Belle grabs the pendant and cuts off the rope, with the intention of eliminating the leader and taking over from him as The Boss. Incidentally, the Vicious Six HQ is inside a record shop named, hold your breath, Criminal Records.

When asked by his teacher what he would like to become when he grows up, Gru, unlike the answers of his classmates that cite “doctor” and “teacher”, utters the unmentionable word, “villain”. And he is damn serious about it. He even manages to send in an application for joining the Vicious Six, and, lo and behold, he is called for an interview. One look at him, and Belle and the others dismiss him off as an upstart kid. But while they are distracted, he manages to steal the pendant, with the help of a device given to him by a criminal just outside the room, as a gift. And yes, he does not want to return it. Cut to the second of many chases. A minion wears the pendant around his neck, and then loses it. Hard Knuckles, who has survived the great fall on the great wall, wants the pendant, called the Zodiac pendant, for himself. So, it is the minions and Gru v/s the Vicious Six v/s Hard Knuckles.

Where would you peg this film? For the under seven year-olds? Or stretch it to under-nine. Then, you must draw the line. That is not to say that I did not have three or four good laughs, and the invited audience at the Indian première at Cinépolis, Mumbai, had probably a few more. Yet, it becomes very difficult to assess what real impact the film will have on highly impressionable minds. Agreed that these kids will be accompanied by adults, which only makes the case worse. What must have gone on in the minds of the two writers, Matthew Fogel and Brian Lynch, is something only they would have been privy to. Suddenly, we have a Linda Ronstadt number playing, and a while later, it is Funky Town. Do under tens of today relate to these songs, which were very popular during their time. Linda was born in 1946, and was last heard in 2011. Funky Town was recorded by Lipps Inc. in 1979. Wonder whose idea was it to have all the minions speak in Spanish, and often gibberish, which sounds kind of cute initially, but it loses impact when you hear it the third time, and is positively disturbing come the 100th time.

A tribute to Steven Spielberg, the film is directed by Kyle Balda, who directed the 2015 version of The Minions too, with Pierre Coffin—Coffin (what an exciting name to ise in show business) lends his voice to almost all the minions. Balda serves us the Spielberg-like heist soon after the beginning. Then there is a scene where Gru and retinue go to watch Jaws. It is the second heist, this time a bank vault robbery, that is more stylishly executed. The way the minions maneuver the aeroplane up to San Francisco, you could picture the Three Stooges in action. I have a hunch that the Hard Knuckles’ hideout is a dig at the Disney Castle, though the similarity is not that obvious.

Bringing back Hard Knuckles from the presumed dead was a good idea, and yet Balda does not cash in on it. He is then absent for long passages and surfaces only occasionally. Later, he is the target of a jibe that evokes sympathy, though. The line goes something like, “There is nobody as despicable as an aging villain.” Indeed. What happens to villains when they become old, sick and weak?” It is a mockery of the law that the Vicious Six operate right under their noses, with a Criminal Records shop to boot, and they are missing in action. Realising that this won’t do, the cops appear in two scenes, both in the second half.

Coming to the voice actors, it is a veritable who’s who, and they all chip in. If one were to pick just one of them, it would have to be Taraji P. Henson, who mouths Belle Bottom. Steve Carell is Gru, and that is no surprise. Michelle Yeoh is billed as Master Chow. Now either the person is a man in woman’s clothing, or it is a typo. Chow, who is a Kung-Fu Master, does not look Chinese, yet Malaysian Chinese Yeoh is chosen to speak for her. Here’s the galaxy: RZA as a biker Otto befriends on his way to San Francisco, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean Clawed, a member of The Vicious 6 with a giant lobster claw (very clever indeed), Lucy Lawless as Nunchuck, a member of The Vicious 6 who is a nun and wields nunchucks (very punny), Dolph Lundgren as Svengeance, a member of The Vicious 6 who is a roller skater (wonder why he was not named RuDolph), Danny Trejo as Stronghold, a member of The Vicious 6 with big metal hands (Crazo, anyone?), Julie Andrews as Marlena Gru, Gru's mother (now that is a welcome rarity, at age 76), Alan Arkin as Wild Knuckles, the former leader of The Vicious (couldn’t be a better choice than the man himself, aged two fat ladies).

Animation, though done on a computer, is a bit old style, which goes with the film’s retro ambience, of the 1970s. The best thing about the film is its length, which is the same as Alan Arkin’s age, in minutes. Assessed independently, Minions-Rise of Gru, a Universal-Illumination collaboration, might garner better appeal. When ranked against other gems in the genre, it fails to match-up. Film-making is risky business, and, I guess, animation film-making is riskier business. The chance of hitting bulls-eye is one in a minion.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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