With 'Despicable Me 2,' fans again go bananas over Gru's minions

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' "Despicable Me 2."

Though "Despicable Me 2" has characters voiced by Steve Carell (reformed supervillain Gru), Kristen Wiig (love interest Lucy) and Miranda Cosgrove (Gru's adopted daughter Margo), the animated movie's indisputed stars are Gru's army of minions, whose simple design, high-pitched voices and penchant for mischief have made them a favorite of audiences — and the new movie's marketers.

The minions weren't in the original script for "Despicable Me," which became a surprise hit in summer 2010 based on strong word of mouth. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud added them as comedic background characters to help facilitate Gru's plan to steal the moon.

PHOTOS: 'Despicable Me 2' premiere

In the new movie, opening Wednesday, which Coffin and Renaud also direct from a screenplay by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, Gru has left villainy behind to raise his three adopted daughters and the minions are the subject of a major subplot when a powerful supercriminal kidnaps them while they're at an ice cream truck.

"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 "Star Wars" — and realized that short stature was a major part of their appeal.

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.

PHOTOS: Hollywood backlot moments

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 Halloween costumes — even an airbrushed van.

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.

rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

PHOTOS AND MORE PHOTOS: Faces to watch 2014 | Movies ENVELOPE: The latest awards buzz DOCUMENTARIES: 10 best of 2013, and a new crop in 2014

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Donald Trump says cops should be tougher on Chicago crime

    Donald Trump says cops should be tougher on Chicago crime

    Businessman Donald Trump brought his nascent bid for the Republican presidential nomination to town Monday, warning that crime in Chicago is "out of control" and hurting the city's image worldwide.

  • South Carolina church shooting shines spotlight on media treatment of white, black suspects

    South Carolina church shooting shines spotlight on media treatment of white, black suspects

    I have been to the Grammy Awards. I have had features written about my music in Billboard, XXL, Jet and other magazines I've always loved. Oprah Winfrey told me to my face that she loves my dreads and purple eyebrows. My music is played on TV shows and movies, and I write about my opinionated views...

  • 'Magic Mike XXL' is the summer's best sequel so far

    'Magic Mike XXL' is the summer's best sequel so far

    2012’s “Magic Mike” and its sequel, “Magic Mike XXL,” could have been so stupid, and I’m sure those who haven’t seen either one assume that they are. I mean, think of how cheesy a movie about male strippers could be. Based on the commercials, they barely seem like movies at all—just two-hour thrust-athons...

  • Vince Staples' sprawling double album 'Summertime '06' is relentlessly gritty

    Vince Staples' sprawling double album 'Summertime '06' is relentlessly gritty

    Vince Staples deals in pessimism, for good reason. The Long Beach rapper has seen a lot of violence and despair in his 21 years. He'll tell you about it too, in unflinching clarity that few artists his age possess. There’s little if any hope in his music. Yet even with the darkness oozing out of...

  • RedEye's favorite songs of 2015 (so far)

    RedEye's favorite songs of 2015 (so far)

    As we reach 2015's midpoint, it's clear that the year in music has been incredible, with a little bit of everything, from classic soul, rap, emo, '70s funk, grunge and scorching Southern rock to searing punk, bubblegum pop and jazz fusion. In particular, Kendrick Lamar's rap-funk masterpiece "To...

  • RedEye's 25 favorite albums of 2015 (so far)

    RedEye's 25 favorite albums of 2015 (so far)

    As we reach 2015's midpoint, it's clear that the year in music has been incredible, with a little bit of everything from classic soul, rap, emo, '70s funk, grunge and scorching Southern rock to searing punk, bubblegum pop and jazz fusion. In particular, Kendrick Lamar's rap-funk masterpiece "To...

Comments
Loading