If you looked up into the sky over the 101 Freeway last weekend, you might have noticed a massive, yellow, cylindrical aircraft hovering above the traffic. The floating orb was a blimp painted in the image of a minion — the gibberish-speaking henchmen from Universal Pictures'
Though "Despicable Me 2" has characters voiced by
The minions weren't in the original script for
In the new movie, opening Wednesday, which Coffin and Renaud also direct from a screenplay by
"Knowing our own love of the characters and people's affinity for them, we wanted to make the minions integral to the story this time," said Renaud, who along with Coffin supplies the voices of some of the creatures.
When they were creating the characters, Coffin and Renaud thought of other memorable sycophants of cinema — the orange-skinned Oompa-Loompas from "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," the brown-robed Jawas from
The filmmakers ended up designing Gru's minions as subterranean, goggle-wearing mole people in coveralls who like to eat bananas and punch one another in the face. "The minions are like children," said Renaud. "They lose their focus, they're not very smart."
Before the movie was released, the filmmakers at Illumination Entertainment, the L.A.- and Paris-based animation studio behind "Despicable Me," got strong reactions to the minions' design from other animators and from employees at Universal who would be charged with marketing and distributing the film.
When Illumination Chief Executive Chris Meledandri showed early storyboards and animation tests to some Japanese animators he knew, they deemed the minions "kawaii," a Japanese word meaning cuteness on steroids — high praise from countrymen of Pokémon and Hello Kitty.
Upon the first film's release, it became clear that the minions' simple, graphic nature had another useful quality — even children can draw them. A search on Pinterest or Instagram reveals thousands of examples of fan-made minion art, from fingernails to
The minions' voices, which largely speak nonsense words peppered with the occasional recognizable term like "potato," translate well across international borders as well.
In designing the first teaser trailer for the new film — which went out last spring — Illumination and Universal focused not on the new story — how Gru is faring now that he's a reformed villain — but on the minions, who sing a 50-second version of the Beach Boys hit "Barbara Ann" with the word "banana" instead.
Apart from the teaser, the blimp and a blitzkrieg of billboards, the minions also now have their own ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, at Universal Studios in Orlando. In 2014, they'll get the ultimate star treatment — a movie simply titled "Minions," an origins story.