Disney normally rules the game when it comes to producing family-friendly entertainment. How many of us can recite our favorite Disney song on cue, or remember the first time we were awed by their stories? Well, this article is about a rare time when another animation studio rose up to take the title and produce a movie that was not only intelligently comical but was enjoyed by parents and kids alike. Despicable Me was a rousing success when it hit the theaters in 2010. It has everything…a villain with a heart of gold, cute kids, and a set of yellow henchman who stole the show. For a second, Disney was not the only star when it came to creating a smart animated story.
An all-star cast of comedians and improvisers including the likes of Steve Carrell, Russel Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, and many other actors throughout the franchise’s run brought even interest to the film. Not only was it unique storytelling of a villain realize his humanity, but it involved some hilarious comedic moments, homages to some of Hollywood’s most famous physical comedians, and a relatable story of a family that everyone can get behind. So, you may think you know everything there is to know about this popular movie franchise, but we bet there are some details you missed on the way to get your limited-edition minions candy. So, here are 25 facts about one of the most successful film franchises that have nothing to do with Disney.
25 The Minions Are Speaking A Real Language
What was your first thought when you saw the minions? My bet is on confusion, and some sense of curiosity. These yellow creatures are supposed to be evil, hence their name minions, but there is something so cute and downright charming about these guys that it is hard to take their commitment to crime seriously. Along with their look and undeniable devotion to Gru, their language came up in a lot of conversation. Many people felt the minions were speaking gibberish that had absolutely no meaning at all.
Can we have the translation book please?
In a way, they are using a dialogue made up of gibberish from a lot of other dialects, but directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud created a real language known as “Minionese.” So, the creatures are speaking an actual language. In preparation for one of the films, there was even an app created to decipher what minions were saying throughout parts of the film. We bet someone has already gone through the movies to create a document to help figure out what these guys are saying. Regardless of their language, these guys are adorable and have become the face of the franchise for a good reason. You may be tired of them, but it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere soon.
24 Extreme Character Commitment
Actors do a lot to commit to a role. They might decide to visit a location to gain inspiration, while others may sit down with people related to real events to gain insight into characters. Some even take it so far as to commit to staying in role on and off of the set to get in the mind of who they are portraying. Well, Will Arnett took a unique and different approach to his role as Mr. Perkins. Most actors will either lose or gain weight for a position they have on screen. However, this preparation was a little odd as he prepared for the role by gaining weight so he could sound like a larger man.
He felt the weight gain would contribute to making his voice have a bit more bass in it than it originally did. What a way to dedicate yourself to a character. We know we would enjoy preparing for a role by eating anything we wanted to throw away exercise for a little while in the name of commitment. Whatever Arnett did to prepare, it worked as his voice did perfectly match up with the girth of the character. We salute his unparalleled dedication to the role as well as his favorable diet.
23 The Resemblance You Never Noticed
Now, we even missed this one when we first watched the movies. It is incredible that we never caught onto this throughout the three films. If you watch carefully and pay attention the minions and Gru’s daughter, you will see there are some striking similarities. Each of Gru’s daughters matches up perfectly with his top three minions. All three matches up size wise to Margo, Edith, and Agnes. They also have similar personality types to their counterparts. Hmm, this makes everything a bit deeper regarding this movie. Were the minions surrogate children for Gru all this time?
Our mind is effectively blown!
Did he subconsciously choose the girls because their size and personalities reminded him of the minions he works with? We have so many questions now that we know this. There has to be even more significance as to why the writers chose to do this. As of now, the directors and writers have not elaborated on this simple design choice, so it would be interesting as to why they chose to do this. Clearly, audiences are not that enamored with Gru’s adopted daughters as the admiration for minions has spawned a spinoff for the group. Maybe this will be included in a ten-year anniversary edition.
22 Give Ms. Wiig A Call
Everyone loves a really nice promotional tie-in, especially one that allows fans to have the opportunity to interact with one of the cast members personally. A lot of people were excited about Kristin Wiig’s inclusion in the franchise. She is the only character to have two different roles in the franchise — Miss Hattie and Lucy— and the crew liked her so much that they decided to have her come back in her own role alongside Gru. In the second installment, Kristen Wiig’s character gives Gru a phone number to call, 626-584-5723. The number was available for audiences to see, and many probably did not realize that the number was real.
While the movie was out, fans could call this number and hear Kristen Wiig’s voice as Lucy. The number is still in service, but the mailbox is unfortunately full so fans can no longer hear Lucy’s voice. Audiences noticed that the number has a Los Angeles area code, so this is probably the work of the studio in that area. There is perhaps a YouTube video of the original recording of Wiig floating around somewhere, so all is not lost if you missed out on it the first time.
21 An Intelligently Sweet Observation
The animal kingdom can be vicious when it comes to kids. Many male animals do not stick around once their offspring enter the world. There is not a significant example of males who decide to take an interest in their kids. This is why animals like the wolf and penguin are so fascinating. Emperor Penguins are one of the few examples of males in the animal kingdom that step up to take care of and protect their young. We don’t care how hardcore you claim to be, once you see a photo of a giant emperor penguin keeping their young warm in the harsh winters it will make you go crazy for the cuteness.
We are seriously getting all the feels!
Well, a connection has been made with one of the coolest dad’s in the animal kingdom to another awesome new dad. Fans have pointed out that Gru’s profile resembles that of an Emperor Penguin. Like the Emperor Penguin, Gru takes the time to take care of his daughters and protect them from the bizarre evils in his world. Again, we see some more profound moments in this movie that we never even thought of. Who would have thought Despicable Me would almost make you shed a tear with its adorable acknowledgment of the importance of family?
20 Close Encounters Of The Macho Kind
Another cool part about this movie is that fact that they were able to pay homage to a lot of different films and famous actors with some creative and hilarious scenes. Cartoons have come a long way in helping to preserve pop culture profoundly, and the Despicable Me franchise has done a great job of doing this. One great example is the introduction into El Macho’s private lair. When the villain, El Macho, is tap dancing the code on his floor tiles to enter his lair (to the recognizable beat of La Cucaracha if we may add), the building responds in a five-note hum.
This is very similar to the way the spaceships responded in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Clearly, the writers on the staff are pretty big sci-fi geeks. The whole point of a family-friendly film is to appeal to the children and parents coming to see it. This is a balance that writers have to make expertly in putting together a movie like this one. Moments like this do an excellent job of making kids giggle, but also bringing the nostalgia to parents who are also sitting in the theater. We think they did a great job with this one!
19 How Many Minions Are There?
Okay, so it seems like there is an endless supply of these yellow creatures. They are everywhere! However, dedicated fans have counted the specific amounts of minions they have seen throughout the movies and advertisements. In both mediums, there have been over 10,000 different and individual minions located. Whoa! That takes a lot of dedication on the part of the animators. This is what makes this feat even tougher: minions only have five possible hairstyles and forty body combinations.
This makes it even tougher to create thousands of minions with differing features. Regardless of the difficulty, the animators were able to accomplish it. They likely got some practice with this during the film, Minions, where the spotlight was all on the yellow-clad crew. One thing is questionable about these creatures, do they reproduce or are they created by some other means? Also, where are the female minions? Is it just a boy’s club, and if so why? The males all seem to have human male names, so they can clearly be differentiated by gender. Either way, we enjoy watching them go about their silly antics. However, we hope that they will eventually get the girls in on the fun as well.
18 A Huge Day For Chiquita Bananas
Now, we are not total fans of commercialism and product placement. We understand that it is a necessary evil that has to happen in movies. Everyone needs some extra cash to make a movie made. We get it. However, unrelated product placements and advertisements can become incredibly annoying. Seriously, how many times do we have to see Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Mac computers plastered in a blockbuster film? Well, Illumination studios did a pretty good job of tying in this fruit to a character that looks similar to it. Chiquita Bananas had a huge promotion and a busy production day with Despicable Me 2.
The company had to print over one billion stickers to coincide with the release of the movie. A couple of things are cool about this promotion. First, it is nice to see something healthy for kids promoted in a film, yeah we totally sound like boring adults on this one, but it’s a nice change. Next, bananas look pretty similar to the ever-popular minions. It is a match made in advertising heaven if you ask us. It seems like the sugary drinks, electronics, and automobile companies may need to step their game up. Fruits are clearly on the come up.
17 A Looney Inspiration
Remember the days of watching Looney Toons all day? How freeing did it feel just to spend the afternoon watching cartoons instead of having to work, and be responsible? Ahhh simpler times. Anywho, someone else was watching these cartoons carefully at the same time. Chris Renaud, director, and creator of the minions recounted how a Looney Toons cartoon led to the creation of the evil and purple version of the characters. An old cartoon that shows Tweety Bird turn into a monster led to the idea of something sweet turning evil or sentient, much like the minions who turned evil. It is easy to see how he was inspired.
They definitely fit the definition of "looney."
The frizzy hair, crazy eyes, and abnormal gait totally point to this legendary cartoon. Another fun fact is that the evil minions were colored purple because this is the opposite hue of yellow on the color wheel. This is just another example in this movie of how the directors took the time to put in great pop culture references and small details that captured audiences. A second look at these movies will have you seeing other references and tidbits you never noticed before. So, be sure to take the time to have another look.
16 The Directors Got In On The Fun
In most of the talk on this list about the minions, two names have come up more than anyone else’s: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. They used a lot of past inspiration to create these characters, construct their language, and even produce an evil counterpart. It would make total sense if they were also involved in the portrayal of these scene stealers. Well, Coffin and Renaud are also the voices of the lovable and yellow minions. All the weird noises, utterances, and languages that sound like gibberish are all related to these two guys.
Notes state that Coffin took care of most of the work, while Renaud put his time in as well. It is amazing that two guys can make different characters of minions sound unique, but they were talented enough to pull it off. Also, as mentioned above, the minion’s languages are a combination of multiple types of dialect, but you can hear the dominant inclusion of French and English. This is because of both of the director’s native tongues. We hope these guys are up for the challenge again, as a minions sequel would be more than nice to see. Here’s hoping these guys got paid overtime.
15 Looking A Little Familiar?
To make characters like Gru, Lucy, and Dr. Nefario come alive, they knew they needed improvisational actors who could bring the emotion and personality each role called for. They got more than they bargained for with this creative crew. While production did use CGI for the characters, the animators paid close attention to the face of the actors as they played the roles because the actual facial expressions were used in their animation. This means that every time Gru made a grimace, or Lucy smirked, it is likely that their real-life counterpart inspired the look.
Yes, Carrell actually dressed up as Gru
The voice is one of the primary factors in informing the design and overall personality of the character, but the glimpse of the actor portraying them can also give animators valuable ideas of what to do next. Think about it, Gru is Carrell, and all the other characters are connected to the actors in a very similar way. Not many kid’s films can successfully do that today. Many times, the actor will either overshadow the role, or the character is too bland to care. In this case, the voice and writing team did an excellent job of blending the two worlds causing audiences actually to care.
14 A Pixar-Like Easter Egg
All right, so we ragged on Disney a bit at the beginning of this list, but they aren’t a superpower in animation for nothing. Their team up with Pixar has royally paid off for the company and fans alike. Pixar is one of the major creative forces behind Disney’s success in recent year. The company is fantastic at teasing audiences about what is to come for their next movie. Pixar tends to place an Easter egg in their current film that points to what the upcoming film will be. Eagle-eyed viewers have been able to spot when a well-known franchise is coming their way or can look back and see the creativity that led to the next movie that was slated to come out.
Despicable Me 3 did a similar thing for Illumination studios. Margo wore a shirt with the Grinch for it, a nod to this being the studio’s next big film being released later this year. We enjoy these little nods. Not only are they creative and fun to look for, but it shows that the studio really puts some forethought into what the next production will be and how they would like to portray it to audiences.
13 The Intention Of The Minions
Okay, so we entirely don’t blame you for thinking that Renaud and Coffin created the minions with the intention of creating a “cash-grab” character. It makes total sense. They are the “BB-8” of the franchise. Back during the original Star Wars heyday, it was not lost on many that the inclusion of smaller and cuter characters was likely a way for the film to cash in with merchandising. Technically, there is nothing wrong with this. If studios can come up with a character that can be endearing and make the studio a bit more revenue on the side, we say good for them.
Nothing like a slam-dunk "cash grab" character.
However, we don’t think these guys realized how popular these little creatures would become to fans of the film. Many have wondered the reason they were included in the series in the first place since Gru was slated to have larger and more evil henchman. The reason is pretty simple: to make Gru even more likable. The fact that Gru was already acting like a bit of an adopted dad to these little “evil” guys is enough to show he had the makings of being a good guy. So in short, Renaud and Coffin knocked the “cash grab” character out of the park.
12 Almost Had Scarface
Today, Al Pacino is known for his foray into more family-friendly films. He has had his share of roles in silly movies, which has put his past acting chops into question according to some. However, Pacino will always be known as the severe wise-talking actor that took on significant roles in Carlito’s Way, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather franchise, and namely Scarface. This is cool, as the former Mr. Tony Montana, almost had a starring role in Despicable Me 2 as Eduardo. Kids in the theater would have wondered who this raucous gentleman is, while adults would immediately know who this person was.
We could already picture a minion saying 'Say "hello" to my little friend.'"
Unfortunately, the acting legend had to drop out due to other commitments. Benjamin Bratt ended up taking on the role and did an excellent job with it. Still, it would have been pretty cool to see an acting great — regardless how you feel about his recent acting projects — take on an excellent role in a major cartoon franchise; who knows, maybe Illumination is not yet done with these movies and can give Pacino a call for another part. That is something that we would line up to see. In fact, can we get presale tickets?
11 The Joining Of Two Marketing Juggernauts
It is always funny to see who comes out of the shadows to begin to jump on a “cash cow.” The Despicable Me franchise has a lot of firsts and groundbreaking marketing tactics going for it. This one, however, takes the cake. It is the first film since Jurassic Park to bring the marketing juggernauts of McDonald’s and General Mills to Universal. Those minion Happy Meals, toys at the bottom of the cereal bag, and weird menu items related to the Despicable Me franchise are all a result of this monumental move.
It is amazing how the worlds of “artistic” cinema and the sometimes greed of business have found ways to co-exist. You cannot go to a kid’s movie without knowing that the characters are going to be plastered everywhere. There is an argument of whether this type of things cheapens the cinema and is exploitive to children and families. What is the limit? How far can this type of commercialism go before it starts to feel intrusive and downright inauthentic? Whatever the case may be, the audience sure seemed not to mind as we are sure the families nabbed up as many of these McDonald’s and General Mills figurines as they could.
10 Far Out Origins
Here we come back to the smart pop culture inclusion into the movie. If you watched the film and felt nostalgic, but were not sure why this might explain it. Now, most of the kids coming to see the movies will probably not get this one, but Gru was designed and even slated to pay homage to 70’s spy villains. One photo of concept art even calls attention to a scene out of a Bond movie. There were also claims that Despicable Me 3 directly spoofed the widely circulated comic Spy vs. Spy with the inclusion of Dru, Gru’s twin brother. Their antics and attire paid homage to the comic.
GoldenGru...A View to a Gru...Dr. Oh Gru...
A reason for some of this groovy throwback action is that the Despicable Me franchise was created by a global team. It was an international effort between filmmakers, writers, and designers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Therefore, a lot of the British spy references make a lot more sense taking the makeup of the team into account. One thing that this film really had going for it is that it is not based on any other stories or subject matter. Unlike many Disney films, the production team had the opportunity to create something new and unique —and filled with as many pop culture references as possible — without having to stay true to some source material.
9 The Steps Of Comedy Legends
Again, this is what makes the movie that much more fun and cool. An international cast brought some global laughs that anyone could jump into. For Gru’s walk, the cartoonists on the team looked to comedians Peter Sellers and Rowan Atkins for inspiration. The physical comedy in the film could also be attributed to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. There is nothing like seeing an animated film take the work of comedic legends and incorporate it into a movie. This also tells us that comedy that worked almost a century ago is still relevant to today. The formula is still the same regardless if it is 1908, 2008, or 2018. Audiences can still recognize and laugh at themes that were made famous long ago.
The production team was smart enough to include these elements in the movie. Every joke, funny misstep, or perfectly-timed remark can be attributed to the work of legends long ago. Another fun tidbit along these lines is Carrell’s quest to find the voicing for Gru. The actor went through a lot of different iterations to get the voicing that we all know and remember. Even though the United States, United Kingdom, and France are profoundly a part of the movie, Gru does not exhibit any known dialect from these places or the comedy legends mentioned earlier. Hmmmmm…
8 So…What Is Kyle?
We all know of dogs that look a little bit like they could be a cross between two different species. They are either ferocious or cute enough —depending on your viewpoint— to look like they could be another animal. The former definitely applies to Kyle. This little guy is clearly a dog, but it is clear that something else is going on here. Kyle is shown to be a pretty raucous looking animal. People have wondered what the creature is supposed to be, and according to production notes, Kyle is a cross between a bulldog and piranha. How in the world did he get that way? Did Gru dabble with a little more than just weaponry?
Sounds like an amazing guard dog to us!
Whatever the case, we would not want to run into this creature while walking through a neighborhood. One question though, does Kyle still need to be in the water at some point? If not, why? We have so many questions, and production is clearly not to keen on giving us answers regarding this. However, we do know that Kyle was also slated to be one of Gru’s henchmen. He was supposed to be much taller and actually able to walk on two legs, with the help of a robotic costume of course.
7 A Whole New Perspective
We are not sure if other production teams do this, but Illumination was very open about their “quality control” process. The team remarked that every eight weeks, they would sit down and watch the film in its entirety up to that point. They would then ask each other if the movie was comical and if the story would make sense to the audience. If the answers were positive, the crew would keep on with the vision. However, if it were not, the team would take time to reconfigure the story.
One of the ideas that were cut is Gru fighting against actual superheroes. The production team had a lot of ideas for the films, and one of them was to have Gru fight superheroes. They had even gone so far as to sketch concept art for the character and give him a name. A scrapped character named Hindsight was supposed to be a foe of Gru in the movies. It is a great idea that they decided to do this. If the team had decided to go forward with doing this, then the movie would have likely been accused of using a very similar plot device to the film, Megamind.
6 Some Macho Inspiration
We seriously cannot get enough of how smooth and plentiful the homages are in this film. If you thought they stopped at Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, then you were sorely mistaken. During the second film, the villain El Macho was created with the inspiration of famed and legendary Mexican wrestler, El Santo in mind. He was also a film actor and icon back during his fame in the 50s and 60s. The production team took the character and expanded on it for the role of El Macho.
Can we have an El Macho spinoff please?
They wondered what retirement would look like for El Santo, and developed a storyline of a wrestler who was past their prime that wanted to come back into the wrestling world. From that, El Macho was born. It is nice to see the homages go beyond just British and American influences to hit on Mexican culture. There are a lot of people who may not have heard of El Santo —including us — and this movie helped to shed light on a legend from another culture. For that, we appreciate the dedication of the production team to add in diversity to their portrayals. It definitely added to the flair and entertainment of the film.
5 More Iconic Inspiration
Alright, we know that we have beat this to death, but we have one more inspiration to mention. Despicable Me is a collage of pop culture references. Some likely scenes and characters brought attention to other works that others have probably missed. But this one was not lost on any avid moviegoer. The minions may have been slated to be evil helpers to Gru, but they were more of a comedic device that turned into a cash grab. Who else can we think of that saw the same fate? These yellow guys were also inspired by some other legendary henchman. Their mannerisms and the role they played in the movie were a callback to were the Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Jawas of Star Wars.
How more iconic can you get than that? Okay, so now that we know this, they should totally do an animated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory crossover film that involves Gru and his minions. Seeing the Ooompa Loompas square off against Gru’s right-hand men would be the comedy for the ages. However, seeing some minions with lightsabers would also be comedy gold. Either way, we’re in!
4 When Fiction Informs Reality
How many times have you wanted a fictional item or location to be real? What if Hogwarts could be a real place? How would you feel if you could get on a flight to Wakanda right now? Wouldn’t it be amazing to have the ability to purchase Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit? Unfortunately, those places of fiction cannot come to life at this time, but a cute little book from one of the Despicable Me films is up for grabs. That makes it all better…right? Okay, we know it doesn’t, but it is still pretty cool to know that a fictional item can somehow become real. In the first film, Gru reads the three girls a child’s book called Sleepy Kittens.
All the feels part two!
It shows Gru’s humanity and his growing attachment to his adopted daughters. Basically, the scene is giving out all the feels. Well, if you liked the story and wanted to share it with your child, it is available for purchase on Amazon. The book even comes with the adorable finger puppets used in the film. Wow, what can we do to get the Batman Tumbler vehicle from The Dark Knight? What about that flaming guitar in Mad Max?
3 Can Agnes Get Any Cuter?
Alright, so we are not done with the “cute” part of this list. Despicable Me is a great film that incorporates family emotion into every one of its scenes. So, it would make sense that the production team would get the whole “family” involved in creating the movie. The voice behind Elsie Fisher needed a little help to get the laughter going during her scenes, so her father helped out by tickling her during her laughing scenes. That is pretty cool that her father would be involved to make the film happen.
What if movies did this with other things? To elicit a response of fear, the team always had a gigantic spider on call to make the character reveal a truly authentic fearful response. To stimulate anger, teams could involve a major pet peeve that the actor had a strong reaction against. There are a lot of ways studios could use this to their advantage. However, back to Elsie. The actress played the role of Agnes for the first two movies but had to bow out of the third since her voice noticeably changed due to her age. Regardless, we will always remember her infectious laugh, and her iconic scene with that “fluffy” unicorn.
2 A Truly Global Language
Maybe the work of Coffin and Renaud can lead to world peace. These guys managed to take a fake language and incorporate the known dialect of some of the world’s most popular languages. The Minionese language is a combination of multiple dialects including Spanish, English, French, Italian, Russian, and Korean. If you thought you heard a word you recognized here and there, this is why. All of that middle and high school Spanish, French, and Russian likely came flooding back into your brain (along with the impossible test, and the realization that book versions of the language will not lead to fluency, but we digress).
One more step toward world peace...maybe?
Again, along with creating the minions and voicing them, the pair came up with real-life interpretations of the language. If things go south, we can always look at Minionese as a viable language option. No one would feel left out since it involves some languages in its composition which also make it easier to learn. We think the directors were really onto something here. Plus, who doesn’t seriously want to talk like a minion? Half the language is facial expression and gestures. Move over Lord of the Rings; there is a new fictional language in town!
1 Is Gru Russian?
We have come to the final entry, and we saved this one for the last. Many have wondered what Gru’s origins are. His accent is not easy to place, his look could be from anywhere, and the character is not forthcoming about where he came from. Why the secrecy? Is there more to the role than meets the eye? Well, some fans feel they have connected the dots about Gru’s real purpose and his origins. Some think that Gru’s name stands for the Russian Military Intelligence agency called Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye which stands for Main Intelligent Department/Directorate. It is the largest intelligence agency in Russia.
We smell some spy ties...
This would explain Gru’s secrecy in locating his lair in an unsuspecting place, his accent, and why he and his twin brother were likely separated at birth. While it is likely this is a little far-fetched, there could be some credence to this. Even if it is not right for the film, maybe the animators and writers got an idea for the name by looking at the name of the Russian intelligence agency. We think this would be an excellent plot for another film if they ever decided to add another installment to the series.