Three movies, a spin off, and way too much promotional marketing later, Minions are cute but are horrible sidekicks and even worse side characters.
They’re cute, they’re silly, they’re universally loved by everyone, which I will never understand. They’re Minions! Made famous by Illumination’s 2010 release Despicable Me, these rounded henchmen assist lead character Gru in any evil plot he comes up with. They assist with his bidding by any means necessary, whether it be stealing a shrink ray, helping his adopted daughters sell their cookies to their neighbors, or working as part of Gru’s temporary jam business.
Except, they really offer nothing to Gru or the Despicable Me franchise at all.
The sole purpose of Minions is to provide comic relief to the Despicable Me series, in order to give children a reason to buy Minions products. The plot of these movies are similar to a few other children’s films, such as Wreck-it Ralph and Megamind. But Illumination wanted to guarantee a way to not only keep kids interested in the movie but create a character that would be perfect for merchandising and sponsored products. When you look up toys and merchandise for Despicable Me, the majority of items you will see are Minions based. For every Gru/Lucy/Agnes/etc. toy you see, you see at least ten Minions toys.
What’s disgusting about this is how much money is being spent to market and profit off of these toys. For the Minions solo movie, Comcast (Illumination’s parent company) spent over $600M for marketing the movie. To understand how much money that is, the actual movie only cost $76M to make. They spent eight times the amount of money it took to make the movie to advertise it. Remember when Minions were everywhere during the summer of 2015? That’s why. To make matters worse, the movie brought in a total box office of $1.16B worldwide, making it the second highest grossing animated movie of all time behind Frozen. The first Despicable Me made only half that, and Despicable Me 2 was $200M off from reaching that.
Clearly the Minions make money. So, why is this a bad thing? To simply put it, Minions are terrible characters. They’re suppose to be the comic relief of the Despicable Me films, but there isn’t anything funny about them. They stick to slapstick and fart jokes and some random humor. Shouting “banana!” in between gibberish talk isn’t funny the first time, let alone the 500th. If there was a mix of other types of comedy, then it would be acceptable. Heck, even if there was some variety in the slapstick, it wouldn’t be too terrible. However, they choose to stick to the method of playing the same tired jokes and gags over and over again. This wouldn’t matter if they were just side characters, but they’ve grown bigger than that.
Minions are supposed to be side characters. They stop being side characters when they have as much screen time as the main characters. In Despicable Me 2, Minions have 1/3 of the screen time devoted to them and their side plot, compared to 1/5 in the first movie. In the marketing materials for both Despicable Me 2 and Despicable Me 3, it’s hard to even tell that the movie has a plot for Gru and his family, as the Minions are a big focal point of all the trailers and clips. Minions are not main characters, yet they are treated as such because that’s the best way to get audiences interested in the film.
In Despicable Me, the Minions are just doing the bidding of Gru, while goofing off in the process. Most of their scenes are them acting as the comic relief, as that’s what they’re designed to be. In Despicable Me 2, the Minions are sucked away to a tropical island for what seems like a fun vacation but then turns out part of villain El Macho’s evil scheme. Then his plan quickly falls apart and they go back to being the useless minions they’re meant to be. In Despicable Me 3, the Minions end up getting thrown in jail after leaving Gru’s employment in protest, and their entire subplot revolves around that. Their time spent in jail doesn’t contribute to the story, yet over a third of the film is dedicated to this plot line. The three daughters don’t even get as much screen time. Why? Because Minions draw crowds and therefore make the film profitable.
The Despicable Me films are average on their own, so it’s understandable they would need something to help bring them in the crowds. To make an argument in favor of Minions, they are stupid and silly because they’re in a kids movie. But when other Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks have shown us that there’s ways to make kids movies funny beyond fart jokes, it’s hard to accept a popular character that does that.
The biggest problem with the Minions is that when they were first introduced, we already expected more than just funny noises and some random comedy to get us laughing in a kids movie. Yet, Minions blew up into one of the biggest characters of all time, not just in the animated film world. Most people who hate the Minions hate them because they find their comedic style to be stupid, so to see them everywhere is bothersome and a reminder that slapstick comedy is still funny to a lot of people. It may seem like a stupid reason to hate them, but at the end of the day, everyone has an opinion on Minions one way or another.
The Minions are terrible sidekicks, but at the end of the day they’re side characters, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. However, when the side character becomes bigger than the entire franchise, you need to reevaluate the franchise. It’s unfair to the story and the original characters created if they become side characters to the side character. Illumination has built a cult-like following behind the Minions, which easily makes them money. However, if they want to have some integrity with it, they need to decide if they want to move forward with the Despicable Me franchise or create a spin off franchise with the Minions. Because letting the Minions shine bigger than their main characters is something so evil that not even the old Gru would go with that plan.