Ready for a nostalgia bath?
You are? Well then, you’re ready for “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Plop right in and prepare yourself for a full-immersion experience.
There are two levels at play here. Level One harks back to “Despicable Me,” the 2010 animated epic that launched a multibillion-dollar franchise that’s spread like the Borg to encompass sequels, prequels, TV shows, video games and even a theme park ride.
“The Rise of Gru” reworks scenes from “Despicable” — remember the Freeze Ray? Meet the Cheese Ray, a gooey people-coating antecedent — as the picture charts the youthful mischiefs of aspiring supervillain Gru. Steve Carell is back to provide his villainous voice, though at a higher pitch to reflect the fact Gru here is 11¾ years old.
The precursor of his vast underground lab in “Despicable” is the basement of his suburban home where he cooks up his naughty instruments of disruption with the assistance of his delightful henchbeings the Minions. Yes, young Gru is already surrounded by his jabbering yellow crew of Kevin, Stuart, Bob and the pint-size rest, whose jabbers are all supplied by Pierre Coffin as they have been in the franchise’s various big-screen outings. How they coexist with Gru’s shrewish, denigrating mom, again voiced by Julie Andrews (sadly underutilized this time), is unexplained.
But wait. Deeper goes the immersion in Level Two, all the way back to 1976 when the picture is set.
On view: bell-bottoms, long sideburns. On the soundtrack: disco, the Ramones, Linda Ronstadt, the Rolling Stones and more, artfully woven into the narrative to comment on the story. (Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” is a prominent commentary. And the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a hilariously showstopping closer, at once reverent and risible.)
The plot pits boy Gru and his loyal Minions against a cadre of supervillains called the Vicious Six, voiced by a murderer’s row of celebrity bad guys: Danny Trejo, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Taraji P. Henson voices the group’s Afro-coiffed leader, Belle Bottom (groan). Curiously, the filmmakers gave these folks dialogue that consists mostly of aaarghs, yawps, screeches and snarls. Anyone could have done those voices.
Boy Gru venerates these villains and wants to join them. They rudely dismiss the kid until he steals a magic medallion, and then they spend the rest of the picture chasing him and the Minions from coast to coast.
Gru is mentored in the arts of cartoony malevolence by a baddie named Wild Knuckles (irascibly voiced by Alan Arkin) who’s been booted from the Vicious Six and seeks revenge. Also in a mentoring mode is a kung fu sensei voiced by the lately ubiquitous Michelle Yeoh. A very funny character.
Gru in turn mentors the Minions who worship him. He instructs them in the making of his bad-guy devices. An early example is a stink bomb that clears a sold-out showing of “Jaws” and allows our heroes to watch it, with gas masks in place.
The tone throughout is frantic, with screamy chases overused. Franticness at its best is a scene in which the Minions take, well, you can’t call it control really, with all the button-pushing craziness in the cockpit, of a jetliner and give panicked passengers the ride of their lives.
Kids will love all the silliness, but oddly the greatest resonance of the Wayback Machine plot will be felt by the kids’ grandparents (if any find themselves in attendance) who were around in those bygone days.
Hey, yeah. I remember that. And that. And that other thing too.