NEW YORK ( Associated Press) — Some of the biggest stars in movies barely speak a word of English or any other language for that matter. Sure, you can sometimes call them “Banana!” can be heard saying. Or possibly “smoochie smoochie!” But most of what they say is bullshit. Minions may be the world’s most popular, and fascinating, foreign-language movie stars—even if “Minionese” isn’t an officially recognized language.
This summer, the yellow goggle-clad will return to further expand his vast empire in “Minions: Rise of Gru.” (in theaters July 1). The “Despicable Me” franchise (a quarter is due in 2024) and its “Minions” spinoff already rank as the highest-grossing animated film franchise with more than $3.7 billion in tickets sold worldwide. .
That’s a big reason why “Rise of Gru” was put on hold by Universal Pictures for the past two years during the pandemic. Minions – another banana scene-stealing gang of mostly incompetent but fiercely loyal operatives – have become a formidable force and an all-encompassing culture presence in the 12 years since.
“There’s a lot of them, so they have a kind of power that they can overwhelm,” says Chris Renaud, producer of “Rise of Gru” and director of the first two “Despicable Me” films. “It’s like the power wearing you out.”
“There’s a contradiction about them,” says Kyle Balda, director of “Rise of Gru,” “Minions” and “Despicable Me 3.” “They want to serve an evil boss of some sort, yet there’s nothing bad about them, really. They’re quite good-natured, except they like to see others fail a little. They Laugh at each other’s misfortunes. They’re so flawed, but their flaws work for them. One thing we often say is this: they fail on the upside.”
The minions are far from failing at the top, in fact, especially considering how close they ever came to clicking in the first place. When filmmakers and artists from Paris-based animation studio Illumination While developing “Despicable Me”, the original script cast them as “henchmen and technicians” and early mock-ups drew them as tough guys, almost orc-like monsters.
Then they were cylindrical shaped robots. But filmmakers — including Renaud, co-director Pierre Coffin and art director Eric Guillen — kept playing with the concept, trying to channel the spirit of the Jaws in “Star Wars.” Or the Oompa Loompas in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Since “Despicable Me” was based on the evil hero, Gru, the minions needed to help balance him. If the minions love him, then he can love the minions.
“Pierre was the one who said ‘Maybe they shouldn’t be robots,'” Renaud recalls. “I said, ‘Well, what about ’til people?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ So I sent some ugly sketches to Pierre and Eric, and then Eric did a sketch that’s basically what you see today. We were like, ‘Okay, this looks like a pill with a spectacle on it. He can work.'”
But what, exactly, were the minions? Even his producers weren’t immediately sure. He used to contemplate a variety of ideas. Were they made in a laboratory by the film’s gadget-maker, Dr. Nefario? The Minions were effectively a blank slate, and filmmakers could funnel almost any slapstick effect through them, from Charlie Chaplin to James Bond. A success, says Renaud, when they were scripting a scene where the minions create Gru’s Internet dating profile and become “completely incapacitated.”
That was when “Despicable Me” filmmakers were beginning to realize that they had potentially made something big – a truly cartoon creation with limitless possibilities. The minions, wide-eyed and (mostly) innocent, were like children.
“When we do design work, it’s like children’s animals,” says Renaud. “Even if they’re behaving poorly, forgive them and laugh at them, just like you would with your kids.”
So was the key, the sound of the coffin’s minions. Coffin voices (with the aid of pitch modulation) nearly all of the minions in each film, a grab-bag of half-words, onomatopoeia, and expressions from a wide spectrum of languages. If Coffin and the team had Indian food for lunch, the minions would say “Tikka Masala!” Shout. from dinner.
Since the Minions started out loosely defined, and their nature was a bit mysterious, the franchise gave them a chance to continually evolve. In 2015’s “Minions,” his backstory filled out a bit; A montage followed them through history And a long line of bosses, from a Tyrannosaurus Rex to Napoleon—all of whom the minions inadvertently sabotage. Some of the minions – Kevin, Stewart and Bob – are as isolated as a trio of siblings. “The Rise of Gru” begins after meeting young Gru, whom they call the “mini-boss”, even though he wants to be taken seriously as a villain.
“It’s like a romantic comedy where it doesn’t work out all that well in the beginning,” says Balda. “The boy meets the girl, the boy loses the girl, the boy gets the girl back. But in this case, Gru is the girl because it’s the minions who are actually dating him.”
Family movie viewing declined significantly during the pandemic, during which many major children’s movies went straight to streaming. But the recent box office success of films like “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” And “The Bad Guys” have suggested that families are eager to return to theaters. There are other family-friendly movies in theaters this summer (most notably “Lightyear,” the first Pixar film to open theatrically in two years), but Minions and “Rise of Gru” are set to help lead the way. Let’s hope. The film’s trailer ends with the minions, like the kids in the movies, entering the theater and getting into their seats.
In the meantime, the work is on for the filmmakers to find out a little more about the juggernaut they created and come up with new gags for the minions. In “Rise of Gru”, they learn kung fu, which is a complication given the size of their feet. Luckily, it’s not really up to the filmmakers either. The minions are in charge.
Says Balda: “It’s almost like the minions telling you what they want to do as you’re painting them.”
Follow Associated Press Film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP