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Feature FilmIdeas/Commentary

Love Them or Hate Them, The Minions Are Here To Stay

Leading up this week’s release of the sequel, Despicable Me 2, the minions are the center of an inescapable advertising bonanza, overshadowing even the human characters in the film. The yellow pill-shaped creatures are on billboards, bus ads, and commercials. They have their own upcoming attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood (they’re already at Universal Orlando), themed hotel suites, video game and a feature-length prequel set for a 2014 release. And then there’s the Despicablimp, a 165-foot-long, 55-foot-tall airship which is currently on a six-month, 20,000-mile journey across the United States to promote the film.

No longer the background entertainment, the minions are the cornerstone of the marketing plan for Despicable Me 2, starring in nearly every ad for the film. Their success among audiences surprises even the film’s writers. “We never knew the minions were going to be so popular; it just became a force of nature,” said the film’s co-writer Cinco Paul in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. The bumbling gibberish and clumsy nature of the minions easily translates across cultures and age groups to win over fans. The minions have also tapped into the striking power of yellow, a color that has found wide recognition in animation and entertainment.

We’ve seen large groups of secondary characters become unofficial film mascots in the past—the aliens from Toy Story and the penguins from Madagascar were breakout stars from their respective films. Hordes of animated characters were a rarer sight when hand-drawn animation was the preeminent feature film technique, but with computer animation, it is easy to replicate and tweak models to achieve a cast of many. The relative ease with which the makers of Despicable Me 2 have created their army of minions would’ve made the 101 Dalmatians animators cry with joy.

The Los Angeles Times recently published an article on the success of the minions, which twice praises the characters’ simple design and says that even children can draw them. But it’s more than just the “simple, graphic nature” of the minions that makes them a success with audiences. Their childlike mannerisms and brazen stupidity is a brand of humor that translates to almost any demographic. Their giggles and gibberish, though annoying to some, is downright infectious.

Even though they risk overexposure, the minions could become a coveted marketing model for animated features, and it won’t be surprising if other studios attempt to copy the formula. But this could result in derivative forms that feel superficial, especially if the characters’ personalities aren’t developed with care. The minions’ push to the forefront grew organically from audience response to the first film. Perhaps then, the real lesson here is that even in this modern era of sequels, prequels, spin-offs, remakes and adaptations, audiences still value and reward original creations.

  • jmahon

    I can’t really explain to someone who hasn’t bothered with either movie why these minions aren’t the annoying, hapless random slapstick annoying-sound making comedic relief the trailers make them out to be, because by all rights, they should be- but aren’t.

    I’ve seen both movies and in spite of myself I end up loving the little bastards and laughing at everything they do. I have no idea how, maybe it’s the writing or maybe I’ve just given up my dignity completely but somehow… I don’t hate them, I love them. It’s impossible to explain, either. They really are hilarious, and they don’t seem like they’re shoehorned into the movie due to marketing demand or screen time requirements or something. They contribute to the plot, they don’t need to say much to do so, at one point in the new film they throw a massive soda pop kegger complete with beer pong, whip cream shooters and a group of lethargic, heavy-lidded ones passing “slurps” of a “milkshake” around in a circle of cushions. How can I hate that?

  • Animator606432

    I wanted to avoid the second film, due to the minions being so promote in the advertisements for the movie. While I didn’t find them annoying in the first, they were just needless to the entire plot. I guess that’s the point of comic reliefs…but I still don’t believe that crap about them not knowing how popular they would become. You could set a bunch talent less, non-artist, movie executives in a room together and come up with something similar to the minions. Not saying it’s bad, but you know they were designed for the purpose of selling toys.

    • Ant G

      But even the rabbids are mimicking the trend rather than being the trendsetters. As the article pointed out there are a number of similar occurrences. I think it’s unfair to just pin it on just execs, animators are in it as well- consciously or unconsciously they mimic popular formulas. It’s so sad; sure you’re doing it to “feed your kids” (where nowadays that really means materialism rather than literally struggling to feed yourself), but no one wants to take the responsibility for the effect that entertainment has on our culture. Our generation will be known as the time Television was in its golden years, and animation was driven by marketing and profit; shamelessly dumbing the medium down to what it’s constantly been stereotyped as (vapid disposable cheap comedy) for money.

  • Get on the Bandwagon

    “Even though they risk overexposure, the minions could become a coveted marketing model for animated features, and it won’t be surprising if other studios attempt to copy the formula.”

    Already happened with Dreamworks (of course) “Rise of the Guardians” Elf characters.

    • Mike

      Seems like the yellow-suited government agents in the Free Birds trailers are trying to tap into something of the same vein as well.

      • Scott550

        You mean the “yellow-suited government agents” from Monsters, Inc., right?

    • Jacob

      And Illumination themselves have copied the formula with the animals in “The Lorax”. (And, yes, I know they were in the original book, but it wasn’t until the movie that they acted so much like the minions).

    • Mapache

      And the happy meal boxes from those McD’s ads.

  • The minions are cute/funny, but there’s something weird about seeing them get so big when they so obviously taking their shtick from the Raving Rabbids.

  • Matthew Koh

    It’s so mysterious that why yellow characters are so popular?

  • jhalpernkitcat

    It all depends on what the little guys are doing. I’ll admit that I was really annoyed at that first “trailer” (if you can call it that) for Despicable Me 2 in which four minions sing “Barbara Ann” except they are actually singing complete gibberish and their version of the song is “Banana.” It’s not that it wasn’t funny–it was for the first few seconds, but then the joke wore out. The song lasted too long–by the time the song was over–I felt like the second little guy who eventually punches out his streamer blowing buddy.

    Yet I was giggling when I saw the Progressive commercial with the little guys meeting up with Flo.(and I do not like Flo although my father does for some odd reason.) The little guys are downright funny when they’re used for quick bits of humor. For the most part, they are amusing and it was merely that one trailer in question that really bothered me.

  • Chuck D

    Yea, the minions blow-up for a minute but like every other “fad” they’ll fade with time until Despicable Me 3 comes out. But I have to admit, I’m in the same position too where I find the minions antics quite bearable despite their simple designs. But to have a prequel all its own about these guys is bound to fail because without Gru or any of the other characters for that matter it’ll be a challenge to make them interesting (let alone watchable) enough for more than an hour. But anything is possible….

  • SarahJesness

    I FINALLY got around to watching “Despicable Me” a few days ago and found myself enjoying the minions more than I expected. Their brand of humor is pretty fun and the trailers don’t do them justice. (I feared I would end up finding them annoying and hating them, which would really bother my friends who all love the minions, ha ha) Though I don’t know if they warrant all this exposure. I recently learned that a minions movie is to be made. As I said, I do find them funny, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to carry an entire film on their own.

    And speaking of trying to replicate the success of the minions… The humming fish in “The Lorax” were pretty clearly an attempt to recreate the formula.

  • Rigamix

    I guess the third movie will mainly follow the minions in an adventure. They’ll say “Panana” for an hour and a half, watching the camera.

    Also if it was just limited to that movie I wouldn’t mind, but you clearly see in the new “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” trailer that they’re trying to achieve the same kind of character by multiplying the number of cute sidekicks. So much toys to do.

  • slowtiger

    Forget all the marketing and toy aspects and just look at the minions’ appearance and actions. Why do so many adults like them so much?

    Because they identify with the minions! The minions are the corporate shirts: all look alike (in the eyes of management), there’s plenty of them, so a single one doesn’t matter at all, nobody listens to them. And now look what they do: they do what everybody in a company really wants to do: act silly, fight, press the big red button when they’re clearly not supposed to do so. They are the inner child, they’re able to sabotage the system.

    In this respect they are the antithesis of Agent Smith. Now just imagine if they’d switch their roles …

  • Chris J

    Ultimately I think the Minions work because they’re just so damn optimistic. Nothing gets those little guys down.

    In the first film, one of them drinks anti-gravity formula and falls upward to his (we can only assume) demise. This is a fairly dark bit of humor for a kid’s movie. Later we get an amusing callback showing that same minion floating in the upper atmosphere, yet he’s not screaming in horror – he’s just enjoying the ride, unaffected by this new lot in life.

    The Minions roll with it. They find the humor in nearly everything. They get scared, sure. They worry about the fate of their friends, sure. But ultimately no situation is so serious that they cannot giggle in its face. Perhaps we as audience members are attracted to such an upbeat philosophy. Perhaps it encourages us to truly believe that “everything will be all right,” which is a comfort to us.

  • Andy Pipkin

    I don’t like minions!