DirectorKyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Valle
Release Date(s)2022 (September 2, 2022)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
Minions: The Rise of Gru is the kind of title that inadvertently demonstrates the way that the Despicable Me franchise has evolved over the years. The first film was a sizable hit in 2010, and that guaranteed that there will be a string of follow-ups for as long as the box office keeps holding out. The tale of a supervillain with a heart of gold has been expanded by two sequels so far, with Gru eventually turning into more of an antihero (a superantihero?) than a villain. He’s been accompanied on that journey by his incompetent but loyal assistants, the Minions, and that’s where the series has taken a left turn. The Minions proved far more popular than Gru ever could have on his own, and they provided a marketing bonanza that would make any studio merchandising department salivate. Unsurprisingly, the Minions got a prequel spinoff of their own in 2015, showing their original quest to find a new evil master, which eventually landed them on young Gru’s doorstep. Minions: The Rise of Gru is a sequel to the prequel, and that’s where things get interesting for the development of the franchise.
The Rise of Gru features a young Gru (Steve Carrell) trying to make a name for himself, with or without the help of his minions. When Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) is kicked out of the supervillain gang The Vicious 6, Gru auditions to join the group. Unfortunately, remaining members Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), Stronghold (Danny Trejo), and Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless) want nothing to do with him. That sends Gru on a path that will lead to him teaming up with Wild Knuckles, Nefario (Russell Brand), and Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh) to vie for dominance—with more than a little help from his faithful friends. Minions: The Rise of Gru also stars Julie Andrews, the RZA, Will Arnett, and Steve Coogan.
As that description should make perfectly clear, Minions: The Rise of Gru is very much Gru’s story, despite the fact that this is a Minions film, not a Despicable Me film. Yet he’s nothing more than a subtitle to the main title. Universal Pictures certainly knows where their bread is buttered, so the supporting characters get top billing, while the lead has to settle for having his name after the colon. At this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising if the next film in the franchise is titled Minions: Despicable Me 4.
The Rise of Gru isn’t otherwise much of a stretch for the series, with the same combination of humor and heart that has made the rest of the films so popular—and yes, plenty of Minion antics. The Seventies setting provides an opportunity for different visuals and especially different music, with the soundtrack offering a wide collection of classic songs, covers of classic songs, and sometimes both. None of that is particularly groundbreaking, but it’s all reasonably well-executed. Co-directors Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, and Jonathan del Valle keep things moving, and at an appropriately brief 87 minutes, the film never quite wears out its welcome, despite the familiarity. The Rise of Gru may be family comfort food, but that’s enough these days to ensure continued success for the franchise.
Minions: The Rise of Gru was animated digitally at 2K resolution, upscaled to 4K, and then graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are included on the disc). The film was framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release, and that ratio is replicated here. (There’s a “formatted for IMAX” logo during the closing credits, but it appears that The Rise of Gru was nevertheless shown at 2.39:1 on IMAX screens.) The results show the typical advantages of upscaling at the uncompressed 2K source rather than the user’s end via compressed 1080p Blu-ray, but there are some interesting quirks in this particular case. Fine detail is definitely improved compared to the Blu-ray, but facial textures appear smooth and featureless when seen from normal viewing distances, even when projected on a larger screen. Yet there’s a surprising amount of fine detail to the skin of the characters when examined up close, although that also makes the 2K origination more obvious. It’s a win some, lose some situation. That’s not really an issue with the transfer, however; instead, it’s just a reflection of the way that the textures were lit during animation. The shading is too subtle, so the details don’t stand out as clearly from a distance. On the other hand, textures like clothing and hair are much better resolved; Belle Bottom’s afro and her frilly outfits really stand out.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the HDR grade that shows the most dramatic improvements. The artists took full advantage of the Seventies setting to go wild with the color design, and thanks to the wide color gamut that HDR provides, there’s a dazzling array of bold colors and subtle shadings on display here. The Minions and Gru still stick to their basic primaries, but that makes the more colorful nature of the supporting cast even clearer. Once again, it’s Belle Bottom who really stands out, with her variegated shades of pink, blue, and purple—there’s a veritable cornucopia of different kinds of purples going on here, and that’s equally true of the alternate form that she takes for the film’s finale. Computer animation offers plenty of opportunity for HDR to stand and deliver, and The Rise of Gru is no exception.
Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, with optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. It’s a lively and immersive track, with plenty surround and overhead engagement. The latter is best exemplified by the scene where The Vicious 6 cuts through the ceiling at Gru’s house—the sound of the saw actually pans around all four overhead channels, so viewers with a full 7.1.4 setup are in for a treat. There’s plenty of deep bass, too, though it’s not as persistent as in some other films. Still, it’s the music that’s the real star of the show here, with the score by Heitor Pereira intertwining with the various songs to energize the whole track. Some of the song choices are a bit on-the-nose, but there’s a few pleasant surprises here as well. Additional audio options include Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 Dolby Digital.
Universal’s 4K Ultra HD release of Minions: The Rise of Gru is a two-disc set that includes a 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film and a slipcover, with a digital code on a paper insert tucked inside. The same extras are available on both the UHD and the Blu-ray. While they’re all offered in some variation of 4K on the UHD, naturally they’re 1080p only on the Blu-ray. (The listing below describes the specific formats for the UHD.) Note that even in 4K, some of them do include upscaled material, especially the behind-the-scenes footage from the recording booths.
- Post Modern Minions (UHD HDR – 3:49)
- Minions and Monsters (UHD HDR – 4:20)
- Extended Scene (UHD SDR – 1:25)
- Outtakes (UHD SDR – 3:02)
- Character Profiles (UHD SDR – 6 in all – 15:47)
- Gru-vy Animation (UHD SDR – 6:27)
- The ‘70s – Fashion, Food & Funk (UHD SDR – 4:48)
- Minion Martial Arts (UHD SDR – 4:12)
- How to Draw (& Animate) with Brad Ableson (UHD SDR – 3 in all – 11:11)
- Lair Flair: Make Your Own Hideout (UHD SDR – 3 in all – 10:22)
- Super Style Shop (UHD SDR – 2 in all – 6:50)
Post Modern Minions and Minions and Monsters are two new shorts featuring the beloved imps, presented on the UHD in 4K with both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Post Modern Minions is a look the ephemeral nature of celebrity, with an unexpected Minion gaining, losing, and regaining some improbable success. Minions and Monsters is a riff on Dungeons and Dragons, proving once and for all that Bards are indeed essential party members. The Extended Scene is a longer version Gru’s arrival for his interview with The Vicious 6. The Outtakes are a collection of recording sessions with various members of the cast. (The most amusing moment has Lundgren struggling to find a Swedish accent.) The Character Profiles feature separate looks at Gru, Wild Knuckles, Belle Bottom, Master Chow, The Vicious 6, and the Biker. They can be selected individually, or played as a group. Gru-vy Animation is a breakdown of the animation process including concept art, storyboards, layout, voice recording, and animation, and lighting. The ‘70s – Fashion, Food & Funk examines the way that the Seventies setting inspired the flair in the look of The Rise of Gru. Minion Marital Arts looks at the way that comedic martial artists like Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow influenced the Minion style of Kung Fu in the film.
How to Draw (& Animate) features co-director Brad Ableson offering tips on how to draw three different characters including the Minions, Young Gru, and Kung Fu Stuart, as well as demonstrating how to animate them. These can be selected individually, or played as a group. Lair Flair: Make Your Own Hideout and Super Style Shop might sound like the kind of barely interactive features that plagued the Blu-ray format in its early days, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, they offer plans and ideas for kids to create their own playthings. Lair Flair shows ways to create an evil lair out of cardboard boxes, stinky Disco Bubbles, and a jet pack for a Minion doll. Super Style Shop has more ideas to create accessories for Minion dolls, including bell bottoms and bandanna, and fringe vest and chunky necklace. These are arguably the best of the extras on the disc—in an era where studios are dumping endless content to keep kids glued to the television, it’s nice to see them encouraging those same kids to get out the crafting materials (and a trusted adult!) to create things with their own hands.
Minions: The Rise of Gru will certainly keep fans of the franchise happy, and this UHD from Universal should keep home theatre fans equally happy as well. The extras aren’t extensive, but there are still some pleasant surprises to be had among them, and the video/audio quality is excellent, even if it falls just a bit short of reference level. It’s a great disc overall.
- Stephen Bjork