Despicable Me 2 has become something of a sensation, generating positive reviews, enough money to keep the Minions in bananas for the foreseeable future and a bona fide franchise that will spawn not only a third Despicable Me entry but also a spin-off Minions film focused solely on the squat yellow icons. It’s also up for awards, including a BAFTA and two Oscars. Given the chance to talk to producer and Illumination boss Chris Meledandri, we asked him about the reaction to the latest film, and what's coming up.
Did Meledandri expect the sequel to be so widely awards-nominated, especially given that the first wasn’t? “This time, it felt natural because in 30 years of doing this, I've never been part of a film where the response is so strong and so universal, so while you never assume that you're going to get nominated, it certainly didn’t surprise me when we did.”
The Minions is due out in 2015, and goes retro with the story, flashing back to a time pre-Gru. As Meledandri reveals, it goes even further back than first thought… “We start the Minions film at the dawn of time, when they're Minion single-celled creatures and it takes us all the way up to the 1960s in London and New York.
“The Minions' goal always has been to serve the biggest, baddest villain they can find. But over the years they've inadvertently ended up killing their own leader through happenstance. The movie does become their quest for a new leader and their target becomes the first female supervillain, Scarlett Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock.”
He admits that the huge popularity of the nonsense-spouting characters – which, between the toys, theme park ride and spin-off film have gone on to become Illumination/Universal’s version of Mickey Mouse – took everyone on the team by surprise.
“When we were making the first film, all we knew is the animators loved animating them, we loved watching them as the film was evolving, but you rarely at that point are thinking beyond just completing the film. Once the first film was released, there was this chemical reaction between the audience and these characters that started to build, even when there isn't a film in release.”
In between mining the Despicable vein, Illumination has two original projects in the works, including a recently announced, and still untitled, pet adventure featuring the voices of Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart.
Despicable Me 3, meanwhile, is still in a more embryonic state, though Meledandri does admit it’s easier to come up with story ideas for it. “We are in the story phase and the early part of scripting. The experience of moving from the first film to the second film was very different from my prior times developing a sequel. When we moved from Ice Age to Ice Age 2, we were really stuck; a story didn't just organically emerge. While I'm very proud of Ice Age 2, from a storytelling sense, it's a very thin story. It was almost as if there had been a completion in the first film from just a storytelling point of view, not from the audience's love of the characters, it just wasn't leading to another story.”
So you shouldn’t expect the Despicable Me films to stop any time soon. “When we feel like Gru's story is complete, we'll stop making the movies, but right now, what ends up happening is that as we explore stories, there's so much left to tell. Leaving the last film he's married, he's raising the girls, he has completed this work where all of a sudden where he was working on the side of good. But there's just a lot more that collectively, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and Pierre Coffin are finding is interesting to explore.”
The Minions will jabber into cinemas on June 26 next year. Despicable Me 2, meanwhile, is up for Best Animated Film at the Oscars and one of only two films, along with Frozen, to feature in the animated and Best Original Song category.