Reel Thoughts: Minions: The Rise of Gru is a despicable cult classic


Graphic by Esther Lim

Far surpassing a mere children’s franchise prequel, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is a funny, heartfelt film with nostalgic ’70s references, Grammy-worthy tracks and a timeless tale of found family.

This article contains spoilers. 

As we walked down North Sheridan Road to the New 400 Theater, our anticipation Gru and Gru. Donning overalls atop a yellow shirt and a black outfit with a striped scarf, we were ready for the then-No. 1 movie in America.

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” surpassed our expectations. Instead of a mere children’s franchise prequel, we saw a funny, heartfelt film with nostalgic ’70s references, Grammy-worthy tracks and a timeless tale of found family.

The fifth installment of the “Despicable Me” franchise centers around 11-year-old Gru’s (Steve Carell) first adoption — not of three adorable girls but of a colony of devious, indestructible yellow creatures who have spent eternity aligning themselves with the world’s greatest villains.

Young Gru’s idols become his enemies when an interview to join the infamous Vicious 6 goes terribly wrong. He steals a powerful amulet during the meeting, proving himself as a villain to the Vicious 6 but putting a target on his back. After mishaps involving the theft, Gru fires the Minions. But when Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), the founder of the Vicious 6, kidnaps Gru, the Minions go to extreme lengths to save him.

The film’s connection to franchise characters and plotlines made this prequel feel essential to the world of “Despicable Me.” Series fans will notice a nod to Vector, the introduction of Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and hints at the moon heist from the original movie.

This film caters to all ages, with classic action-flick references, a chance to participate in the #GentleMinions TikTok trend — and frequent minion butt cracks. It lives up to its “Minions” title, as the movie does not solely focus on young Gru. Multiple scenes are spoken entirely in Minionese, and their impact is in no way lessened by the language barrier.

Beyond the humor and lighthearted plot, we were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of deeper meaning. Mirroring the themes of “Despicable Me,” found family features heavily throughout the movie. While Wild Knuckles captures Gru, planning to take the amulet and dispose of him, when Knuckles discovers the amulet is missing and his henchmen quit, an unlikely friendship blossoms between the washed-up villain and young Gru. By the end of the movie, Knuckles becomes a father figure to Gru and finds he is stronger when motivated by love, not greed and power.

The Minions also form a familial bond with Gru. Even after a harsh rejection, the Minions demonstrate unwavering loyalty and unconditional love. After new minion Otto (Pierre Coffin) trades the amulet for a pet rock, he traverses the country via tricycle — in “Forrest Gump” fashion — to retrieve it and return it to Gru. Meanwhile, Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all also played by Pierre Coffin) pilot a plane, a “Catch Me if You Can” reference, to follow the kidnapped Gru to San Francisco and train in kung fu to protect Gru from the Vicious 6. In these little-yet-mighty yellow creatures, we see a universal message: As their trainer Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh) said, “Even the smallest of us are capable of great things.”

But “Minions” wasn’t perfect — it played into subtle gender stereotypes. During the climactic fight scene, the Vicious 6 use the amulet to take on the personas of the Chinese zodiac animals. The two female characters transform into a slithering snake and dragon, while the male villains become a brutish baboon, tiger and bull. We were disappointed to see women as snakes, a typical portrayal that brings undertones of seduction and deceit, as the men appear strong and muscular. Still, this creative fight scene used stunning visuals of San Francisco’s Chinatown and allowed the Minions to shine as the heroic underdogs.

We urge everyone in the mood for lighthearted summer fun to see “The Rise of Gru.” And while you’re at it, stream the movie soundtrack. We’ve been bumping BROCKHAMPTON’s “Hollywood Swinging” nonstop.

Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Twitter: @AudreyHettleman @jennaanderson_1

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