Monday, January 4, 2016

MD Reviews: Seconds


From Jiminy Cricket to Olaf the Snowman, animated sidekicks have always been scene-stealing fan favorites. Some have even become so popular recently that they are now the stars of their own movies. Not just direct-to-video spin-offs like Bartok the Magnificent or Kronk's New Groove, but feature films like Puss in Boots, The Penguins of Madagascar and now Minions and Shaun the Sheep Movie that are equal to or even better than the originals they were spawned from.

The jabbering little yellow critters known as the Minions first appeared as, well, the minions of supervillain Gru in Despicable Me and its sequel. These bipedal, seemingly innumerable over-alled, oversized Twinkies are given an origin story in their first of what will no doubt be many movies. From the dawn of creation, the Minions have had a innate desire toward subservience, and the more despicable their master the better. Through the ages they glom on to such baddies as a T-Rex and Napoleon until the film settles on a setting: the swinging mod London of the 1960's (cue the incessant prog rock).

There, the main Minion trio of Kevin, Stuart and Bob try to impress superstar villainess Scarlett Overkill, the comedic development of which apparently ended with the casting against type of girl next door Sandra Bullock. (Note to animated filmmakers: just putting an A-lister in an atypical role isn't funny in and of itself.) John Hamm, Geoffrey Rush and the Absolutely Fabulous Jennifer Saunders as the Queen of England fill out the vocal cast, but in spite of all this celebrity the Minions steal back their own movie with their simple shtick and lovable personalities. Enough with the humans, here's to a Minion-only Minions 2.

Shaun the Sheep made his debut in the Academy Award winning Aardman Animation short A Close Shave. A truly breakout character, Shaun soon found himself with his own merchandise and TV show, the basis of which is the jumping off point for this sweet solo movie, sans his former co-stars Wallace and Gromit. To the infectiously happy tune "Feels Like Summer" (which better be nominated for the Best Song Oscar), Shaun starts his first big screen adventure on Mossy Bottom (!) Farm where he and his flock innocently plot to take a break from their daily routine, run like clockwork by their friendly yet dim owner. Naturally, things go awry and the farmer, beset with amnesia, ends up lost in the nearby big city, and the intrepid sheep, led by Shaun, set off to rescue him. But when they run afoul of an overzealous animal control officer, it is up to our clever hero to save the day and return them all to the simple joys of rural life.

Aardman once again has created a deliriously entertaining stop motion gem that, with dialogue reduced to the merest of sounds, relies almost solely on the lovingly-crafted and intricately-detailed visuals to elicit the biggest of laughs. Like Gromit before him, Shaun is the Buster Keaton of clay, capable of hilarity with even the slightest of deadpan expressions. This "silliness of the lambs" was easily, almost effortlessly the most blissfully enjoyable movie-watching experience of the past year.

MD Ratings:
Minions: B
Shaun the Sheep Movie: A

Minions and Shaun the Sheep Movie are now available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

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