To make a marketable animated kids’ movie, always include a rapping and/or dancing animal.
It’s a pandering, tried and true formula, and judging by audience reaction, it’s a freakin’ hit.
As it happens, one of the few things “Minions” has going for it is a lack of rapping and/or dancing animals. And, oddly enough, it has a really decent soundtrack.
But don’t look for anything more in what amounts to 90 minutes of colorful kids’ fare, the kind of stuff parents slap into the backseat DVD player on a long road trip.
That said, it’s expertly animated kids’ fare, and some A-list actors throw their voices into the fray, including Sandra Bullock (“Speed”), Jon Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”) and Michael Keaton (“The Other Guys”).
Returning to voice the titular, diminutive heroes is the film’s director, Pierre Coffin, whose grasp of high-pitched gibberish peppered with food-related vocabulary from any number of romance languages is nothing short of astounding.
These heroes are Minions, the yellow, goggle-eyed, well-meaning but staggeringly inept buffoons that have served as henchmen for villains throughout time, the most famous being Gru (Steve Carrell, TV’s “The Office”) from “Despicable Me,” its sequel and numerous direct-to-video releases.
Having always been one of the series’ more marketable components, it was only a matter of time until they received their very own spinoff in “Minions,” stretching their slapstick shtick to full feature length.
The film reveals that Minions have been serving villains of sorts since the dawn of time, from dinosaurs to bears to vampires to Napoleon Bonaparte, but always with the same results — accidentally killing their employer.
Eventually, they’re forced into seclusion to create their own way of life, which, without any particular sort of motivation, grows tedious. Thus, they send three of their own — Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all voice by Coffin) — out in the world to find a new boss.
They eventually arrive in 1968 New York and, after a crime spree/road trip with family man/bank robber Walter (Keaton) and his brood, end up recruited by supervillain Scarlett Overkill (Bullock), who takes the action to England in an attempt to steal the throne.
She’ll need the Minions to rob the crown jewels, and her husband, villainous inventor Herb (Hamm), has given them just the right gadgets for the job. Needless to say, nothing goes quite as planned, and hijinks, shenanigans and tomfooleries ensue.
Substance, however, does not. “Minions” feels like empty entertainment, with one-note characters that, despite the talented voices behind them, fall completely flat. As characters, the Minions themselves don’t grow — literally or figuratively — and were they not the film’s de facto baddies, Scarlett and Herb would be instantly forgettable.
Just as forgettable is the film’s arbitrary and squandered 1960s setting. Apart from its soundtrack, featuring the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Donovan and many others, along with a handful of lazy visual gags, the story could have taken place in any given decade.
The film’s at its best when it shows the Minions “evolving” through time, while blissfully serving their various, doomed masters. But maybe that’s because this happens early on. Unfortunately, they’re just not funny enough to occupy an entire feature-length movie, especially if you’re over the age of 8.
In “Despicable Me,” they had their laugh-out-loud moments on the sidelines, and some of their animated shorts are worth a hoot or two, but these conveniently pill-shaped creatures are best in small doses.
“Minions,” rated PG for action and rude humor, is playing at Regal Cinema 7. For show times, see page 27, or visit www.google.com/movies.