‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ nostalgically revives ‘Despicable Me’ franchise

Photo of "Minions: The Rise of Gru" movie
Illumination Entertainment/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

The five-year gap between “Despicable Me 3” and the latest film in the franchise — “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” released July 1— meant that audiences young and old were shaking in anticipation of the cinematic evil to come. 

Featuring Steve Carell as a young Gru and Pierre Coffin as Bob, Kevin, Stuart and the rest of the Minion clan, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is a prologue to the rest of the beloved franchise. Despite being spurned by their leader Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Gru seeks to join the premier team for evil, the Vicious 6, after Wild Knuckles’ (Alan Arkin) departure leaves an open spot. 

The Vicious 6 elevates this film, not only with an array of new voices — including Danny Trejo as Stronghold, Lucy Lawless as Nunchuck and Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean Clawed (yes, seriously) — but also with a team approach to evil not seen in previous “Despicable Me” films. On screen, the ensemble is just as exciting and entertaining as they are dynamic and threatening: a surefire way to captivate audiences young and old.

While the actions of the Vicious 6 at times feel gratuitous, especially given that Belle Bottom seems to do most of the work, its dynamic is essential to setting the stage for Gru and Wild Knuckles to meet. Although their first encounters are hardly friendly, Wild Knuckles eventually shapes Gru’s villainous skills and outlook, acting as an evil yet benevolent father figure. 

In telling this origin story, the film weaves callbacks to every previous film, encasing the audience in sentimentality. Scenes at the Bank of Evil, a glimpse at a younger Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and the charm of seeing a younger Gru in HD remind audiences of what they love about the franchise while thematically remaining in tandem with previous movies. At times, the plot may move too quickly for an adult audience, but it is perfectly timed to engage young viewers new to watching the minions.

In particular, the scenes of young Gru rampaging the suburbs with Bob, Kevin and Stuart bring easy laughs and pluck at heartstrings. Firing a cheese ray in an ice cream store and cruelly taunting a class of stationary cyclers with stolen ice cream, Gru has always had his heart set on villainy from infancy. 

Moreover, the viewing experience and pacing of the film is buoyed by the outrageously wonderful soundtrack. Produced by Jack Antonoff, all audiences will delight in hearing both its original and cover songs sung by the cream of the Hollywood crop. From “Turn Up the Sunshine” by Diana Ross featuring Tame Impala to “Black Magic Woman” by Tierra Whack to “Goodbye to Love” by Phoebe Bridgers, this may be the strongest, most talent-studded soundtrack to hit theaters this year. These lovely tracks and vocals contribute to the pace of the film — playing over about two-thirds of the entire movie — and provide a tempting lure to older audiences.

Of course, no lure is more effective than seeing the chaotically adorable minions at their humble beginnings. Throughout the film, audiences watch the minions’ devotion to Gru blossom. Bob, Kevin and Stuart even engage in intense training to improve themselves so they can protect Gru when he needs it most, with scenes elevated by a very compelling voice performance from Michelle Yeoh as Master Chow.

If the “Despicable Me” franchise has shown anything, it is that Gru can’t do it alone. In displaying the loyalty, hardworking nature and love for their “little boss,” the film casts the Minions in a well-deserved spotlight, earning respect from not only Gru, but audiences worldwide.

Somehow, this Minions movie has captivated a generation with upscale memery in the form of the #GentleMinions trend, where Generation Z moviegoers get dressed to the nines, à la Gru, to experience the film. These galvanized teens who were just toddling when the first movie premiered prove how engaging and extremely cute “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” and the entire franchise, really is.

Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected].