I’ve developed a serious pet peeve against children’s animations that rely on celebrity voices. Cartoon characters can change their shape and body language at will, yet most movie stars and pop singers are strongly associated with a particular—and often limited—vocal style. The novelty of hearing a star’s voice emanate from an unrecognizable form grows old quickly, which may explain why so few star-studded animations linger in the popular consciousness. Except for toddlers parked in front of the flat-screen by their parents, does anyone still watch the DreamWorks releases Shark Tale (with Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, and Robert De Niro), Over the Hedge (with Bruce Willis and William Shatner), or MegaMind (with Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill)?
Kids loved Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013), though they probably couldn’t have cared less that Steve Carell provided the voice of Gru, the supervillain protagonist. They were more interested in the minions, a race of little, yellow, accident-prone creatures who tried (and often failed) to assist him in his mischief. Given voice by series codirector Pierre Coffin, the minions sound like a cross between small children and big birds, chirping and squawking in a private language of gibberish and random bits of English, Spanish, and Italian. Their silly speech is an effective sonic analogue to the sight gags in which they’re regularly involved; it seems to grow organically out of the films’ exaggerated visual design.
Minions, the third entry in the cycle, is essentially a series of sight gags, many of them amusing and some of them laugh-out-loud funny. Set arbitrarily in 1968, the story follows three of the creatures on a worldwide search for a new evil genius whom their race can serve. Their quest takes them to Orlando—where they attend a “Villain Con” based on contemporary fan conventions—and then to London, where their new boss (given uninteresting voice by Sandra Bullock) plans to steal the royal crown. The overarching joke of the film is that the minions render adorable everything they touch; even before they inadvertently foil some evil plot, they undermine it simply by attending its creation. I got tired of this joke before the movie ended, but I appreciate the gusto with which the filmmakers—particularly Coffin, with his nimble vocalizations—carried it out. v