Minions take over a classic Hollywood movie theater. (Photo via Daily Billboard.)
Minions take over a classic Hollywood movie theater. (Photo via Daily Billboard.)

This weekend Minions will challenge Shrek the Third for the all-time biggest U.S. opening for an animated film — and like Shrek the Third, critics aren’t digging it.

That seems to be the average critical consensus of Illumination and Universal’s slapstick-happy Despicable Me spinoff, about an unintelligible horde of miniature, yellow slaves to evil who can’t help but be good in the end. Indeed, directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda’s Minions has already broken north of $140 million internationally, before even opening in America, but nevertheless splatted at 55 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

“It feels like a direct-to-DVD movie, but it’ll make a billion dollars,” explained Charlie Jane Anders at io9, summing up the consensus quite well. “It’s hard not to feel as though the biggest caper Minions pulls off is being a cash-grabbing follow-up to a popular series.”

“It’s not whether this prequel can mint money; that’s a given,” added Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. “The question is: Can the minions carry a movie all by their mischievous mini-selves? ‘Fraid not.”

Minions is product, pure and simple,” piled on Joe Williams at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Little kids will love it, but grown-ups will feel like they’re being held hostage in a Fisher-Price test laboratory.”

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal likened it to “one of those emails that’s flagged with the phrase, ‘This message has no content’ after failing to load properly.”

While Minions’ transparent aim to jack up Illumination’s bottom-line was well-represented in critical opinion, some reviewers aimed more squarely at its formal story and character flaws. “The bottom line is that the filmmakers are working with nothing here — no characters to speak of, no interpersonal relationships, no story with any suspense or capacity to engage, and no script with any humor or wit,” argued Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The minions — like the proper sidekicks they are — never really learn or change, always getting caught in variations of the same scenario,” added Boyd van Hoeij of The Hollywood Reporter.

However, some critics did manage to give Minions a pass, taking its metatextual financial aims as part and parcel of its experience. “Minions may just be an excuse to cash in on the phenomenal success of the Despicable Me franchise,” admitted Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “but as crass commercial enterprises go, this prequel gives its all.”

“There must have been a million Minion ideas that Lynch and everyone involved simply weren’t able to incorporate into the film,” said Variety critic Peter DeBruge, who recently moderated the post-keynote Q&A with Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri at the Annecy Film Festival.

But even Minions’s positive reviews managed to take a half-step backward, perhaps worried they would be taken seriously, unlike the film. Because it’s hard not to want to take a whack at Illumination’s brazen box-office gamble, given the combined critical and box-office success of Pixar’s cerebral Inside Out. After all, there is plenty of precedent for animation that is more overtly interested in making money first, and art second.

But cartoon history is often made when animation successfully fuses both its artistic and economic ambitions. In the final analysis, its box-office performance may be the only history that Minions ever makes.

Have you seen Minions? Did the critics get it right or wrong? Report back here with your thoughts in the comments below. This talkback is reserved for readers who have seen the film and wish to comment on it. General comments about the film, or commentary from those who have not seen the movie, will be deleted.