You do not need me to tell you what a Minion is — small, yellow creatures who love bananas, wear goggles and dress in blue overalls. They were first introduced in 2010’s Despicable Me, followed by two sequels, their solo film, and a ride in Universal Studios.
Now, they’ve returned with a vengeance. Teenagers are flooding movie theaters en masse, donning business suits, curling their fingers, and watching Minions: The Rise of Gru. #Gentleminions has gained over 160M views on TikTok and even inspired some cinemas to ban suits from their showings.
So, how did we get here?
According to Despicable Me’s co-director Pierre Coffin, the Minions were a “complete accident.” They were first designed as orc-like henchmen, grotesque brutes with bulk muscles. But orcs were expensive to animate, and Illumination (the film’s animation studio) had a limited budget. This compelled animators to strip down their approach. In the end, the film ended with “these very simple, pill-shaped, [creatures] that we could multiply thousands of times without hurting our computers.” And multiply they did.
A minion is born
The Minions are undeniably adorable. With big round eyes and a child-like voice, their design makes them visually approachable (while their laden cuteness complements today’s cute-obsessed consumer culture).
Then there’s Minionese: a mixture of gibberish in French, Spanish, English, and Japanese. Banana. Bapple. Para tú. Poulet tikka masala. Their language is mostly nonsensical, but their international blend allows any person to somewhat understand what they’re saying, no matter their country of origin.
“I started mixing up all sorts of languages just so that it felt more universal,” Coffin told Vice.
“The magic of understanding what they’re feeling or saying isn’t the words, but more the music. Just by the melody of a sentence, you could understand if they were angry, if they were pissed if one was telling a joke and the other wasn’t finding it funny.”
But the Minions’ physical comedy is what takes the cake. The creatures hijack airplanes and shoot rockets — using cartoon-like slapstick one rarely finds in films nowadays. Coffin has often mentioned silent films as a source of inspiration, especially comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Ultimately, what’s special about the Minions is that their humor is universal — seeing a Minion fall flat on their face is just as funny in the States, as is in China or Mexico.
The ‘minionification’ of it all
A “unicorn” in their own right, the Minions possess the rare quality of being beloved by both children and boomers alike. For the latter, Minions have become a mascot, conquering a plethora of Facebook memes from morning prayers to wine jokes. They’ve also developed numerous Facebook groups, with some garnering over 200,000 followers.
Why Minions, exactly? We may never truly know. But some fans have shared their input.
One user wrote:
“They represent the little kid in us.”
“They get away with things that we wish we could.”
Meanwhile, GenZ has recently reclaimed the Minions’ meme as their own, albeit with layers of meta-humor and irony.
“It just used to cringe me out,” James Norman told Vice. Norman, a 21-year-old TikToker, had never watched Despicable Me growing up, but he hated seeing the Minion’s memes on Facebook. “I just used to think ahh, it’s really cringe.”
Luck would have it that after filming his #Gentleminion TikTok, Norman would end up watching the entire film. “It was actually really good,” he said.
For Obie Ike, 19, the #Gentleminion trend served as a trip down memory lane. “We thought it would just be fun,” he explained to New York Times. “It sounds a little strange, but it’s not harmful and, hey, you just look really nice to go see a movie.”
Minions: The Rise of Gru has so far grossed over $500 million worldwide. They may not have stolen the moon, but they definitely conquered the world.