Henchmen charm again in ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’

You can’t help but be charmed by the current of weirdness that washes through the computer-animated “Despicable Me” franchise.

Take, for instance, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” — the second prequel to the main movie series and the sequel to 2015’s “Minions” — which debuts Friday in theaters.

It introduces a collection of colorful new villains, including Jean Clawed, who’s voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Nun-chuck, a Lucy Lawless-voiced character who, yes, is a nun-chuckswielding nun.

Yet while a young version of the series’ antihero, Gru (voiced, as always, by Steve Carell), is front and center in this romp, the draw continues to be the Minions. The odd but obedient little yellow fellows — voiced distinctly and cleverly again by the uniquely gifted Pierre Coffin — are worth the price of a ticket.

After an adventure that ultimately landed them in the late 1960s, we meet back up with them, serving a nearly 12-year-old Gru, in the mid-’70s.

Gru worships a daring supervillain team of the day, the Vicious 6. In the movie’s opening minutes, the group travels to Asia to steal a powerful item known as the Zodiac Stone. After the gang’s leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), narrowly escapes with it, another member, the Afro-sporting Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), snatches it from him and literally cuts him out of the team, filling the sudden leadership void herself.

Gru is thrilled when he’s granted a chance to interview for the opening with the Vicious 6 and excitedly heads for an interview in their secret lair within the music store Criminal Records. There, Gru meets a future associate, then-aspiring mad scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), but the interview is a bust.

However, in hopes of impressing Belle Bottom and company, Gru swipes the Zodiac Stone. Instead, that puts him in their crosshairs and leads him to his favorite baddie, Wild Knuckles, who becomes his mentor.

Meanwhile, the familiar Minion trio of Kevin, Stuart and Bob are worried about Gru and try to catch up with him, while a new minion character, the larger, almost-round and highly chatty Otto tries to redeem himself after disappointing Gru.

Others contributing voice work includes Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), as Master Chow, an acupuncturist who tries to teach kung fu to Kevin, Stuart and Bob; and Julie Andrews (“The Sound of Music”), who returns as Gru’s mother.

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is directed by Kyle Balda, who helmed “Minions” and 2017’s “Despicable Me 3,” with help from co-directors Brad Ableson (“The Simpsons”) and Jonathan Del Val (“The Secret Life of Pets”). The screenplay is by Mattew Fogel, with Brian Lynch and Fogel sharing credit for the story.

Along with Chris Meledandri — founder of the production company behind the films, Illumination — and others, they’ve shaped another adventure that is constantly entertaining, never more so than when the Minions are being, well, Minion-y.

Early on, after a school career day in which Gru announces to his snickering classmates that he wants to be a supervillain, he and the boys empty out a theater to watch “Jaws,” have a blast playing their own versions of pinball, PopA-Shot and Whack-A-Minion, er, Whack-A-Mole and delight in eating ice cream in front of folks on exercise bikes.

“Gru” is a little less successful when it comes to telling a compelling story. Although a sweet moment or two is shared by Gru and Knuckles, the new characters — most noticeably Belle Bottom — aren’t well-developed. That’s one reason why the story told here — as with the previous “Despicable” tales — likely will prove to be pretty forgettable.

Ultimately, the Minionfueled gags are enough, such as when our fearless trio takes the place of a flight crew and attempts (yikes) to fly a passenger jet to San Francisco. We won’t spoil all the fun, but be aware it is one of at least two instances where you’ll get a peek at bare Minion behind.

Well, with no ifs, ands or buts, we can say this is another clever, weird and, again, entirely Minion-y experience.

Meszoros writes for Tribune News Service.