This weekend, the little yellow troublemakers, the Minions, are back on the big screen. This time, it’s in the prequel movie Minions: The Rise of Gru, which tells the story of how a young, 12-year-old Gru dreams of becoming the world’s greatest supervillain. Naturally, he’s aided by his loyal Minions.
Set in the 1970s, Gru is a simple kid living in the suburbs. He’s smart. He’s nerdy. Oh, and he’s not a fanboy of superheroes, but of the supervillain team known as the Vicious 6. He hatches a plan to become evil enough to join their ranks and together, Gru and the Minions build his first lair, experiment with his first superweapons, and pull off their first dastardly missions. But when a spot on the Vicious 6 opens up, his interview goes terribly awry, and suddenly, Gru finds himself the enemy of the most vicious villains in the world. Aided by Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and the braces-sporting Otto, it’s up to Gru and the Minions to stop the Vicious 6.
If you’re a person with eyes or ears and access to the internet, then you know just how much mayhem those Minions can cause. In the past decade-plus since the first Despicable Me movie was released, the round yellow underlings somehow took over the internet–and no one’s sure how it happened. Well, sort of not sure.
First, it helps to have good branding. When the first Despicable Me came out in 2010, Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures realized they had a potential marketing bonanza on their hands, the Baby Yoda of the decade. And suddenly, the Minions were…everywhere. On billboards, on your TV, on t-shirts and coffee mugs and Happy Meals and Amazon packages, on endless cross-promotional commercials, and more. And toys. So, so many toys.
But a marketing campaign is only as strong as its product, and this helps explain why the Minions not only took over merchandising and commercials, but also the internet. The simplistic brilliance of the Minions is that they are everything and nothing at the same time. A person knows what a Minion is; you know what they look like, even what they sound like. But if someone were to ask you what a Minion is, you’d be hard-pressed to articulate it. They’re all the same uniform, non-human shade of yellow, and while their shapes and sizes vary, they can all be best described as round, amorphous blobs. Like the Minions themselves, their Minionese language is everything and nothing, a sort of understandable but simultaneously unintelligible mishmash of English, Italian, French, Russian, Japanese, and who knows what else. Their only purpose is to serve a supervillain, but they’re not very good at it and they’re not very evil. Their humor is simplistic and childish, but still elicits laughs from adults. They’re designed to be a kid-friendly, inoffensive idea that broadly translates across all countries and cultures, emojis come to life.
In other words, they’re the perfect meme material. They’re blank slates, the perfect template onto which a person can project any emotion, thought, joke, or pithy saying. There’s somehow a perfect Minion for each and every one. If you’re searching for a specific, indescribable reaction GIF, chances are, the Minions have made the exact expression you didn’t know you needed. One barely knows what they’re saying, but you understand them all the same; Minions are the walking embodiment of “vibes only.”
Minions are sheer nonsense understood, a chaos that somehow makes sense. And if that’s not an accidentally great description of being on the internet and just being alive, period, nothing is. It’s our world, but it’s the Minions who have figured out how to live in it.