Gru himself has a Eurotrash quality: scarf lazily draped around his neck, oversized turtleneck, skinny black pants and long pointy shoes. He could be any Eastern European architect or designer you know — armed with dastardly schemes and the armies of support staff to enact them, of course. And here, the armies themselves, called “minions” in the film, represent an entire new genre of visual form and character development. Optimizing the slow burn of Pixar’s Luxo Jr.
, they careen across the screen like burlesque honeybees. Part Oompa Loompa
, part Lego block, minions are shape-shifting miniature yellow robots who multitask with beguiling skill. (In one scene, Gru shakes one until he snaps and self-illuminates: minion as glow stick, or in this case, instant flashlight.) They clobber each other with a Punch and Judy pokiness, make silly noises by the water cooler, and waltz about with the mindless intentionality of an Energizer bunny. But what really
irresistible is their mysterious language: minions seem to babble interminably in a kind of accelerated patter that sounds like a cross between Spanish, Japanese and your computer’s Zarvox setting upped to maximum warped speed. (Toddlers in minion costumes will be everywhere this Halloween: mark my words.)
Okay, so there are some annoying things about the film, too, including a trio of miniature girls who look like Weebles
, and a few too many pointedly feel-good morality moments for my taste. Kristen Wiig
, in the role of Miss Hattie, is way underused, and the music, while spirited, feels miscast. There are too many kittens and unicorns and way too much ballet. But wait! Vector’s spaceship looks like what Knoll might have issued if given the chance to strut for NASA, and there are some utterly brilliant details that you’ll miss if you blink — the crackberry-dazed anorexic power mother in the front row at the dance recital, for instance, or the skeweringly shrewd interiors (don’t miss the signage) at the aptly-named “Bank of Evil.” There’s the dangling, cheapie car freshener in Gru’s car — an armored tank that makes a Hummer look like a rickshaw — and enough trompe l’oeil
monuments and recycled grenades to make your head spin. It’s dark. It’s dastardly. And there’s good design! Really: how can you resist?