I doubt there is anyone alive who hasn't had at least some contact with The Minions. The fact that these oblong yellow sidekicks appear in the studio logo and are getting their own movie shows what an effective marketing tool they have been for Illumination Entertainment Animation, however it is not simply good marketing that has drawn in audiences. I've seen both Despicable Me films a few times and have been impressed with the strong stories and joke writing. They are a credit to the studio as a cut above a lot of movies made for children, especially girls.
In the first movie, a supervillain named Gru adopts three orphan girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes, to use as pawns against his rival, Vector. Once he has retrieved the shrink ray Vector stole from him Gru plans to shrink the moon and steal it for himself, winning in the process the respect of all other villains in the world. When Gru brings his charges home he finds them harder to deal with than he assumed, eventually warming to them as they chip away at his tough exterior.
What was most enjoyable about the first movie was that the family storyline was introduced naturally and remained an integral part of the way the supervillain theme was played out. While it is the girls that cause the most conflict between what Gru wants to be doing (looking after his charges) and what he thinks he should be doing (being a great supervillain) they are also the catalyst for Gru to achieve his goals re: moon shrinkage, so when he decides to adopt them once and for all at the end of the film it isn't just a sappy feel-good plot device but a natural endpoint for the story.
In the second film Gru is recruited by a secret organisation known as the Anti-Villain League to find out who stole a mutagen from a secret laboratory in the Arctic Circle. He is reluctantly partnered with Agent Lucy Wilde to case a local mall where they suspect the mutagen to be. Meanwhile, Agnes is pestering Gru about having a mother and after she meets Lucy insists that Gru will fall in love with her. After several mishaps Gru and Lucy uncover that the Mexican restaurant owner is actually El Macho, a supervillain who was thought to be dead from skydiving into a volcano. After besting him and his mutated minions Gru and Lucy agree to go on a date. The film closes 147 dates later at their wedding.
The story in the second film is a little more predictable but I feel the new characters make up for that in a big way. Where as Vector was slightly annoying and didn't have much screen time, El Macho is a major part of the story and is a funny, well-developed character in his own right. Lucy is a great addition to the story, and not just because she's an independent and self-possessed female character. Unlike a lot of sequels this film manages to maintain the quality established in the first film, and I'm definitely interested to see where the creators take the franchise in the next installment.
I really enjoy the animation in these movies, especially the second one where the range of female characters is especially apparent. In a time where Disney is churning out the same tiny-waisted, small-nosed, ample-busted females it always has and trying to pass them off as different people (compare Rapunzel and Elsa if you don't know what I'm talking about) it is really refreshing to see a studio unafraid to animate women with big hips, large noses, or flat chests. I'd recommend these movies if you want something to watch with kids or if you're a sentimental adult who gets misty at movies about orphans finding a home.