Most kids want to be doctors or firemen or astronauts when they grow up. But not 11-year-old Gru. As he grows up in the 1970s, Gru wants to become a super villain.
He already has a team of henchmen in the Minions (yellow, Twinkie-like characters who love to cause mischief but aren’t very good at it). His first evil lair is under construction. And he’s even invented a jet bike. Now he just needs to prove himself to the Vicious 6—a team of the world’s most famous bad guys—to realize his dream.
But the members of the Vicious 6 aren’t interested in the Minions’ mini boss. “You seriously think a puny little child can be a villain?” asks Belle Bottom, leader of the crew.
“Yes. I am pretty despicable,” Gru defends.
“Come back when you’ve done something evil to impress me!” Belle demands.
Gru doesn’t waste any time. He steals the Zodiac Stone (an ancient relic with mystical powers that the Vicious 6 stole themselves to take out the Anti-Villain League) from the Vicious 6 and dashes off.
Unfortunately, Gru entrusts the Stone to one of his Minions, who promptly loses it. And before Gru can get it back, he’s kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, former leader of the Vicious 6 who wants the Stone for himself to carry out revenge on his old squad for trying to kill him.
Now, it’s up to the inept Minions to track down the Stone and rescue Gru before the Vicious 6 can take over the world.
The Minions may love mischief and mayhem, but they’re also very sweet. They don’t cause trouble for the sake of being mean, but rather because they think it’s funny and they think others will find it hilarious too.
Gru, despite his claims otherwise, is also pretty sweet. Yes, he loves to torture people trying to lose weight at the gym by gloatingly eating ice cream right in front of them. But he also allows his Minions to sleep in his bed when they have nightmares.
Gru and Wild Knuckles both learn the important lesson that they can’t do anything alone. And it’s important to have friends you can trust who will support you no matter what.
An old woman comes to the Minions’ defense when she sees they are getting beaten up. A man gives a Minion a ride out of the desert after he sees it is dying from the heat.
The Zodiac Stone is mystical in nature, allowing the Vicious 6 to transform themselves and others into powerful animals. We see the Stone glow on its own several times, and when it’s first picked up, we see animal spirits fly into the Stone.
A kung fu master teaches the Minions to channel their “inner beast” which turns their eyes red, creates fire when they run and allows them to blast people with a gust of air created by their voices. The same person also works as an acupuncture therapist, and she has potent powers herself.
One of the Vicious 6 is called Nun-Chuck. She dresses as a nun, carries her nunchucks in the shape of a crucifix and can even be seen crossing herself in prayer. At times, she appears to levitate with a glowing light over her head—though it’s revealed that’s how she enters her ship, which is designed to look like a church organ. She calls Gru a “demon child” and shouts “Hallelujah” in response to some evil plans. The evil nun is quite likely one of many visual nods to icons from the 1970s, in this case, Mother Bernadette from The Exorcist.
At a funeral, the Minions dress as angels, complete with wings and halos. Gru’s mom meditates and does yoga with a guru. In their garbled Minion language, they perform a gospel-ized version of the Rolling Stones hit song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Minions have a penchant for having their overalls fall down. Accordingly, we see the bare behinds of a couple of them. Gru’s unclothed rear end is also partially seen as he dries himself after a shower. He dances around in a towel for a bit and we see him slap on some tighty whities.
A Minion tries to trade smooches for kung fu lessons (he is rejected). Several Minions dress as women, putting tennis balls in their dresses to look like human women in scenes played solely for humor. One Minion repeatedly shakes his backside while dancing.
After falling onto a bed of spikes, a man grabs hold of a spike between his legs to help him sit up.
We hear a number of songs from the ‘70s, including these lines from KC and The Sunshine Band’s smash 1975 hit “Get Down Tonight”: “Do a little dance/Make a little love/Get down tonight.”
We see someone fall thousands of feet into a river, apparently sealing his doom. But that character shows up later with nothing more than a black eye to show for it.
A man falls into a booby trap and nearly gets stabbed by a bed of spikes. (His limbs somehow all fall in between them, but we see the skulls of other not-so-lucky victims.) He is also attacked by hundreds of golden robots in the shapes of animals.
Several bad guys, including Gru, drive recklessly, sometimes causing crashes. (They also purposely smash up some cars during a car chase.) Characters get into fights throughout the film. And while they mostly come out unharmed, some henchmen are seen wearing casts after an encounter with a kung fu master.
Belle Bottom uses the Zodiac Stone to transform into a giant snake. She then eats a Minion and blasts Wild Knuckles with fire (though both survive their respective attacks). The Vicious 6 also tie Gru to a clock tower, which works as a type of stretching rack until the Minions save him.
Wild Knuckles threatens to kill Gru with a giant spinning blade on a huge record player playing disco music, claiming that if the disco doesn’t kill him, the blade will. But he eventually turns the machine off.
A man’s fingers are slammed in a door. Gru is dangled over a balcony by some henchmen. He and Wild Knuckles are both nearly eaten by the latter’s pet crocodiles. A man gets electrocuted (we see his skeleton when this happens), but he is OK. The Vicious 6 destroy Wild Knuckles’ house.
A Minion gets set on fire (and we later see him charred black but completely unharmed). Another Minion hits his fellow with a hammer. One gets attacked by a duck.
Basically comedically violent pratfalls continue to be the name of the game in this movie from start to finish.
None. But we hear the terms “heck,” “sucker,” “stupid” and “idiot,” which some parents may not want their kids repeating. Gru exclaims, “Holy Guacamole.”
None. However, parents and teens may notice a reference to hotboxing when a car fills with smoke from a cassette tape explosion (especially since a Minion hops out and starts blowing smoke rings). This scene is another clear wink at marijuana use in the ‘70s, albeit one that parents will get and young children almost certainly won’t.
Gru claims to be despicable, and while his offenses are pretty minor, it’s important for kids to know not to repeat them. He and the Minions cheat at arcade games, use a cheese-ray gun to get free ice cream and then mock gym members with that same ice cream. (The Minions also first tricked Gru into hiring them by using a water hose to mimic rain.)
People steal, kidnap and lie. A man fakes a heart attack so his partner can break into a bank. Later, he fakes his own death to evade authorities.
There are multiple jokes about flatulence throughout the film. (Gru releases a flatulence bomb into a movie theater so he can watch Jaws with his Minions.) One Minion is sucked into an airplane toilet. The Bank of Evil (which is used by villains) is accessed through a urinal. A Minion sneezes into another’s mouth. The Minions fly a plane full of passengers haphazardly, scaring them and making a few turn green.
Gru is mocked by his classmates for wanting to become a super villain. Several Minions are mean to Otto, another Minion, for talking too much (and Gru yells at him to “shut his yapper” after Otto disappoints him).
Multiple scenes involving a motorcycle rider in the desert pay visual homage to the 1969 countercultural statement movie Easy Rider.
Everyone, even villains, needs friends they can count on.
Wild Knuckles formed the Vicious 6 because he wanted to do bad stuff with his buddies. But they didn’t care about the old geezer nearly as much as they did about having power. So they betrayed him, leaving Knuckles alone and lonely.
Gru thought he wanted to join the Vicious 6—so much so that he fired his loyal Minions once he was offered an interview with the group. But after witnessing Wild Knuckles’ heartbreak, Gru realizes that he doesn’t need the coolest, baddest friends around. He needs friends he can trust. And the Minions, despite their many failures, have never let him down when it truly mattered.
That’s a nice little message to come out of a film that centers around despicable villains who kill (or at least try to) and kidnap others. But despite the Vicious 6’s threats and best attempts, nobody actually dies here.
Then there are the Minions. They’re practically indestructible. You can set them on fire, smash them with a hammer or even drop a safe on their heads, and they’ll still come out smiling. In fact, the only problem there is that you may need to remind your kids not to imitate their silly, slapstick antics at home.
Language and overt sexual content are nonexistent. We do see a few of the Minions (and Gru’s) naked behinds, but it’s played for kiddy giggles.
In fact, the main things for parents to be mindful of are likely a bunch of allusions only they will get, some of which flirt with being ever so slightly naughty. The KC and The Sunshine Band lyric referenced above is the most blatant offender here. Likewise the visual nods to pot smoking and The Exorcist’s nun. We also get an homage to the silhouetted figures at the beginning of every James Bond film in the 1970s (although here, they’re not sensual at all.)
Elsewhere, references to Jaws, Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon Jump, roller skating and bell-bottom jeans round out the list of winks at a decade many people have tried to forget ever since.
These things will go straight over the heads of most littles. In fact, there were a few that went over my own. But it’s still something parents may want to be aware before buying tickets this otherwise innocuous, often joyfully innocent film.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her fiancé indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.