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The minions are back

Just seven years after its release, Minions, one of the most successful animated films all time, is finally getting a sequel. In the prequel, we see a young “minion master” who, as a teenager, is already on a quest for world domination and wants to become the world’s most powerful supervillain.

Illumination’s big hit Despicable Me/Minions is the highest-grossing animated film franchise with $3.7 billion in global revenues, thanks of course to the minions who have been ubiquitous worldwide since their emergence. And what’s the secret behind this huge success? The light and easy humour, the amorphous cuteness of the characters and, of course, the clever marketing strategy! These little yellow creatures in their blue overalls and goggles have become the real big guns of today’s entertainment industry. After appearing as sidekicks to the evil Gru in the 2010 animated comedy Despicable Me, five years later they got their own film based on their original story, Minions, which went on to gross $1.15 billion worldwide. Once they officially became Universal Studios mascots in 2016, the phenomenon took off, leaving the world of cinema and quickly becoming celebrated stars of the internet, dominating Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook feeds.

According to Pierre Coffin, the “voice of the minions” and one of the directors of Despicable Me, the birth of the minions was a happy accident born out of comic necessity. The animation team originally envisioned the minions as a large army of muscular thugs doing the dirty work behind Gru. After realizing that these thugs made Steve Carell’s character more unlikeable than funny, the team decided to make a huge change to this basic idea and create the minions into something more adorable, lending the film a charming, awkward, and of course irreverent goofiness. Moreover, they’ve managed to create something that even the most skilled improvisational actors could only dream of – stealing the show from Steve Carell. In 2012, Despicable Me grossed $540 million worldwide and became a Universal Studios theme park attraction.

While the little yellow creatures were side characters in Despicable Me 1 and 2, the Minions are now a feature film dedicated exclusively to them. The result is a film whose main characters literally speak gibberish. The prequel to Minions is in fact a legacy of silent films, where stories are told through pranks, gags and physical humour. This comic philosophy emphasises simplicity and underpins the film’s madcap, often consequently over-the-top plot. It was risky, but it worked: the Minions became the second-highest-grossing animated film of all time that year, almost tied with the much bigger-budgeted and much more classic Disney musical Frozen.

The success of the minions in conquering global pop culture is also due to Universal Pictures’ bold decision to set a record in 2015 by spending $600 million on marketing alone, in partnership with companies such as Amazon, Tic Tac, Converse, and McDonald’s. The Minions have become the inspiration for a number of products, not only appearing in Happy Meal meals and on Amazon packages, but Universal Pictures also promoted a #MinionsOnTour campaign that featured the characters all over the world.

The craze associated with the Minions is sure to pick up steam this summer, with fans having to wait another two years for the little yellow chaos-makers and their reformed supervillain master to return to the big screen once again in Despicable Me 4, on 23 July 2024.