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The Despicable Me Minions Were Originally Supposed To Look Much Different

When the animated film Despicable Me arrived in theaters in June 2010, its biggest draw appeared to be its all-star cast, featuring names like Jason Segel and Kristen Wiig and headed up by Steve Carrell, who was riding high on a wave of popularity thanks to his turn as Michael Scott on The Office. While it's true that audiences' attachment to those marquee names contributed to the film's box office success, the real stars of the show only emerged once people were able to see the movie, and feast their eyes on the army of little, yellow, cylindrical beings who served as supervillain Gru's henchmen.

Dubbed Minions and possessed of a charmingly enthusiastic incompetence, these seemingly made-for-merchandising creations fumbled their way into audiences' hearts, propelling themselves to their own spin-off and becoming a licensing bonanza to make even the animation titans at Disney drool. What is it about these guys that everyone loves so much? Is it their plucky attitude? Their bizarre patois? Their goofy way of overcomplicating the simplest tasks? Their rubbery physiology?

It's probably all of the above, which makes knowing that they were almost entirely different in every respect all the more jarring. At a 2013 screening of Despicable Me 2 sponsored by Variety, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud revealed the secret design origins of these lovable yellow munchkins, and how everything that made them so popular almost didn't happen.

The Minions were originally less cute and more terrifying

According to the filmmakers, the original take on a Minion — as envisioned by Sergio Pablos, author of the story that served as the taking-off point for Despicable Me — was much larger, and much less wacky. "Initially, the Minions were supposed to be this army of Orc-like brutes," said Coffin, "but they just kept becoming smaller and smaller." So, why make the switch? Coffin, who along with Renaud provided the Minions' voices, said it was necessary to get audiences on board with a villain as the main character. "We needed to make Gru sympathetic," he said," and the easy way was to actually have him surrounded by incompetence." For his part, Pablos has confirmed the drastic difference between his creations and what ended up on the screen, saying in a 2017 promotional video for his SPA Studios, "I'm not to blame for the Minions."

So, what did we get in the final result? The Minions of Despicable Me and its sequels and spin-offs are about two to three feet tall, shaped like pill capsules, and possessed of either one or two eyes. They typically wear blue overalls, black gloves, and goggles, and may or may not have hair. Perhaps their most memorable characteristic is their language, an incomprehensible gibberish kludged together from parts of English, French, Italian, and Spanish and imitated endlessly by just about every child who has seen one of these movies (and no shortage of adults).

The Minions have been key to the success of the Despicable Me series

Whatever the motivation for the alteration of the Minions from brutes to adorable gremlins, it's a safe bet that Universal, the studio behind the Despicable Me films, is happy that the change was made. While they were definitely a secondary part of the original film, their popularity was undeniable, leading to their playing a much larger role in Despicable Me 2. When that movie blew up the box office, Universal greenlit a spin-off that put the Minions front and center, titled, appropriately enough, Minions. That movie became the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film ever, solidifying its stars' iconic status. Meanwhile, Universal has leaned into the characters hard, making them a company mascot, raking in a mint on merchandise, and even including them in theme park rides.

So, what's next for these world-conquering, unlikely heroes? Having had their origins explained in the first Minions movie, they'll now feature in Minions: The Rise of Gru, a film that explains how they came to link up with Carrell's Gru when the supervillain was a boy just trying to establish his bad guy bona fides. The trailer has racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube, but, unfortunately, the wait for it will be longer than expected, as its July 2020 release date was pushed back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, when it does arrive, it's hard to imagine that Minion-mania won't still be in full swing, thanks to the key design decisions that made them a worldwide sensation.