Minions turned out to be one of the biggest animated sensations of the year, grabbing $335 million domestically and $1.1 billion worldwide for Universal and Illumination Ent. It’s also an Oscar contender for its trippy, throwback ’60s satire and charming physical comedy. In honor of this week’s Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Universal, I spoke to directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda.
Bill Desowitz: What was it like expanding their role from sidekicks to hero characters?
Pierre Coffin: Chris Meledandri asked us during the making of Despicable Me 2 what we thought of making a whole movie with these little characters and if they would be hero material for a movie. I think Kyle and I very naively said yes, not knowing what kind of detail we were going to jump into. We knew that there was potential certain for physical comedy and for doing cultural references and stuff like that. But it came out during the first four or five months the problems we were going to face for about three years, the language being one of them. Having three heroes that you don’t really understand was a problem so we had to cut down on gibberish dialogue [a language developed in the previous movies based on funny-sounding words from Italian, Spanish, German and Indonesian] just because it was irritating, even to us.
And then finding a story that would carry the whole thing. Brian Lynch, the script writer, had the initial idea about Villain-Con and then Kyle and I thought it would be cool to show the origin of Minions. And we had these weird ideas like showing them as single-cell creatures and then showing them with the dinosaurs and then inventing a reason for their existence, which is to serve an evil master. And that led us to the first 15 minutes of the movie about their problem in life and would they solve their problem in life. And that led to individualizing the three Minions we have in the movie: Kevin, Stewart and Bob. And sending them on that quest to save their buddies.
BD: And then you have the important cultural backdrop of the ’60s.
Kyle Balda: I think the cultural aspect was a big part of it. The production design of the ’60s and the musical choices that we could play with. But it also served as a practical purpose as well because of it being pre-Gru to set it back to when he was a youngster.
BD: What was it like analyzing the Minions and why they’ve been embraced?
PC: They’re totally children but also irritating. And we were aware after that four months of initial boarding and trying to find a story that that we didn’t overdose on them. And that’s why we introduce those human characters and references that would take weight off of the Minions, music being one of them, a time piece. And the simplicity of the Minions is why we push the level of detail off on the backgrounds and being more reverential to the era. And also Kyle and I love the Chaplin and Keaton kind of comedy and we could reference the classics to give a little bit more weight to what on appearance is a very child-like movie. But when you look at it a little bit closer, it’s not really one.
KB: We put the Minions in situations that are relatable to adults. Kids will go for stuff like blowing raspberries, but that’s part of their mischievous, child-like nature. But Kevin trying to save his tribe and Stewart wanting to be a famous rock star and Bob running into trouble and Kevin trying to take care of him like a parent.
BD: What was it like animating them?
PC: The animation wasn’t that hard but it did require a lot of work that we didn’t have in the other movies simply because of the sheer number of Minions and also because of the emotional aptitude that was asked of these guys.
BD: Let’s talk about Scarlet and Herb Overkill and working with Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm.
KB: The nature of Scarlet’s character is that she’s bi-polar and unpredictable. She can be extremely sweet, which is something that a lot of people relate to Sandra Bullock. So we needed that girl next door kind of quality. And that way we can pull the rug out from under the Minions when she gets upset a. And then Jon Hamm’s character was like the soft side of her. So he helped a lot to give her this other dimension.
BD: What were they like to work with?
KB: Sandra was pushing to find the extra dimensions so she could go so bombastic but also have this soft, subtle side. With Jon Hamm, he was able to do a lot of ad-libbing about what this groovy character could do.
BD: What are your favorite scenes?
KB: Mine is the hitchhiking scene when they’re trying to get a ride to Orlando, mainly because it’s the first time you get to spend with Kevin, Stewart and Bob alone where you see the dynamics of their relationship. And it’s a situation that people can relate to but, again, it doesn’t depend on any dialogue at all. And it’s a mellow respite from some of the higher energy that happens in the rest of the film.
PC: And my favorite is the one where all the Minions are dancing in the cave with the Yetis. It pays tribute to Singin’ in the Rain, which is why I make movies. We were lucky to get that song: it doesn’t belong there but it’s stupid.
Here’s an exclusive clip from the new mini-movie Cro-Minions – available only on the blu ray