Magazine article Screen International

Minions': The Three Stooges

Magazine article Screen International

Minions': The Three Stooges

Article excerpt

As massively successful as the Despicable Me films were - the 2010 original grossed $543.1m worldwide and the 2013 sequel $970.8m - even Pierre Coffin, French co-director of both CG animated outings, wasn't sure at first if the Minions could carry a spin-offfeature of their own.

"We thought they were really funny, and invaluable as sidekicks," says Coffin of the cute yellow creatures with sweetly subversive attitudes who, in the original films, cater to every whim of franchise anti-hero Gru while making plenty of other mischief on the side. "But were they feature film material? That we didn't know."

The popularity of the Minions Mayhem rides at Universal's theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood, and of the short films that went out with the Despicable Me features' home entertainment releases, certainly suggested potential.

But it was only when screenwriter Brian Lynch (whose other credits include Illumination's Hop and DreamWorks Animation's Puss In Boots) pitched an idea for a prequel about the Minions' ages-old search for the most despicable of masters that Coffin, his spin-offco-director Kyle Balda (layout head on Despicable Me, co-director of Dr Seuss' The Lorax and director of the Minions shorts) and franchise producers Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures became really convinced.

Comedy pedigree

Citing Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, Mr Bean and the Looney Tunes Road Runner cartoons as reference points, Coffin and Balda see the essence of the Minions' appeal in the characters' relatability - though they want an evil master, they're not really evil themselves - and their physical comedy, their language being a mostly unintelligible mash-up of international tongues invented and delivered by Coffin himself.

In their own film, however, the characters "needed to have a drive that an audience could relate to and invest in", Balda says. So in Minions, three of the be-goggled multitude - big brother figure Kevin, adolescent rebel Stuart and eager 'little brother' Bob - leave their Antarctic home and go on a mission to find a new master, a mission that takes them to New York, China, Australia and eventually a version of swinging sixties London.

Differentiating Kevin, Stuart and Bob without losing their essential Minion attributes was one of the first challenges the film-makers faced. Among the creatures' common characteristics is playfulness and, says Balda, "even Kevin, who's the responsible one, still had to loosen up and be the goofball sometimes". But the film's three heroes "also needed to have something clear that they were going for and in that regard we tried to give the audience something to hang onto".

The story has multiple criminal masterminds - in a nod to genre movie fans, they gather to compare schemes at a 'Villain-Con' convention in Florida - but one, the quick-tempered and stylish Scarlet Overkill, emerges as the Minions' potential new boss.

"We knew they had to have this human counterpart," recalls Coffin, "a real live human being they would have to interact with and play off. That would help us understand them and see them from a human perspective."

Making the main villain female, Coffin adds, was a nod to 1960s feminism. And casting Sandra Bullock to voice the role, explains Balda, gave the character a sweet side to contrast with her scarier moments.

Other characters woven into the action include the Nelsons, a 1950s nuclear family with a penchant for robbing banks; Scarlet Overkill's deranged mod husband Herb, voiced by Jon Hamm; a Beefeater played by Steve Coogan; and Queen Elizabeth II, vocally portrayed by Jennifer Saunders, of Absolutely Fabulous fame. The directors say they relied on their UK editor to keep things within the bounds of royal etiquette where the latter performance was concerned, though at the film's London premiere, Balda admits, "we were half expecting to have tomatoes thrown at us".

The film's international settings were chosen not to please global audiences, Coffin insists, but "mostly just to have fun. …

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