MINIONS; a modern-day, animated “Three Stooges” ***

Illumination Studios, the animation wizards who created the “Despicable Me” franchise for Universal, has opted this year for a spinoff of the films that star the zany little yellow sycophants of criminal mastermind Gru, his “minions.”  Here, we delve into the origin of the Minions, and discover how they eventually became connected to Gru, their not-so-evil master of the previous two films.

Minions, it turns out, are actually creatures from prehistoric times that seem to have everlasting lives, and whose purpose is to find the baddest guy/girl/creature in the world at the time and mindlessly serve him/her/it.  But as time has passed, the Minions have run out of T-rexes and cave men and other notorious types and are now stuck in Antarctica on the verge of complete hopelessness.  And so three brave Minions (or maybe just stupid ones?) set forth into the now-modern world to find the most evil person for their compatriots to serve, and thus save their race from extinction-by-boredom.

What follows is a trip to Orlando’s Villain-Con and a meeting with its worst-of-the-worst, Scarlett Overkill (voiced rather blandly by Sandra Bullock).  The three brave Minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob, see her as their salvation, and she sees them as the perfect thieves to snatch the Crown Jewels from a young Queen Elizabeth (it’s the 60’s after all).  The ensuing journey to London to carry out the heist is filled with enough slapstick and sight gags to fill two or three Marx Brothers movies and a whole week of Three Stooges episodes.  And the poking fun at British-isms is never-ending, and often hilarious.

What’s missing, though, is any semblance of the heart-felt stories of the first two films.  Rather than giving us a diabolical doer of evil who discovers, through his encounters with three mischievous orphan girls, that he’s not so “bad” after all, the filmmakers here dish out a “plot” filled with little more than endless goofiness, and, just like those Marx Brothers and Three Stooges shows’ schtick wears pretty thin after a while, so it does here as well.  Not much heart-tugging in a silly adventure to save a race of yellow puff-balls from dying of boredom in Antarctica.

So, while you’ll be chuckling nonstop through this and once in a while even getting a good belly-laugh, you won’t get the peaceful satisfaction of enjoying a well-told story with theme and heart along with it.  Like newly hatched chicks, Minions are cute, yellow, and funny, but sorely lacking in meat.  Most of the film’s target audience, though (families, particularly those with very young children) probably won’t care about that too much.  Thus the 3 stars rather than 2 and a half, and here’s to theaters-full of giggling 7 and 8 year-olds and their mildly entertained parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, or big brothers and sisters.