Best Animated Comedies: The Minions and French Cartooning
Most animated features have an almost grotesque desire to be loved.— Roger Ebert, December 26, 2003
Jacques Tati's Influence on Minions
Why do hordes of people love hordes of Minions from the Despicable Me animated films and cartoon shorts? They are popular enough that they might be able to carry a weekly half hour TV series, like the Penguins of Madagascar.
The yellow capsule-like people wear goggles, black rubber gloves, and black gum shoes or boots with their Americana coveralls, so are they mad scientists or deranged farmers?
They draw viewers in with a comic charm that unites children and the adults who love the Minions. The influence of French filmmaker Jasques Tati (1907 - 1982) is evident in the physical exaggerations in the film Minions' characters, the noises, and the affectionate equating of adults with children. Behind every yellow capsule in denim is the heart of Tati, as the Minions search for a boss they can keep forever.
Are they mad scientists or deranged farmers?
Applied French Humor
People of various ages respond to Minions, some for the same reasons they enjoy Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977), Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966), Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops (silent films), and Jerry Lewis (1926 - 2017), all of whom the French regard highly. Jacques Tati was influenced by at least the first three.
French Slapstick Humor
The Minions' humor and animation are French influenced and the related films make people laugh, except for the people they cause to grimace. Early July 10, 2015 with $6.2 Million from Thursday early US showings added to the $140+ Million already earned overseas and in California, Rotten Tomatoes movies site showed 10 Top Critics rating the film positively and 19 Top Critics trashing it. Sixty-eight percent of audience opinions were positive.
It is popular for critics to dismiss science fiction and animated films as being "not good enough" genres. Regardless, these film genres make money and produce audience satisfaction overall. Avatar and Frozen are probably the best two recent examples of long term moneymakers.
The French director of Minions worked first as an animator in Paris, training in a school that has placed animators with Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar, and other famous facilities. He worked also for Amblimation, which joined with Dreamworks. Despite negative critics' opinions, even the French director's name is funny - Pierre Coffin.
That would be pronounced cof-feen, rather than coffin -- We see two long black coffins in Minions and one coffin contains Dracula with a nose the size and shape of a giant's carving knife. English speakers may call the director coffin instead of cof-feen, so we see two coffins in the film. I heard many people cracking up over this in the capacity crowd I was in, but other people missed the joke.
One of the silliest scenes in Minions featured about 1,000 of the begoggled creatures dressed as Napoleonic French soldiers, running away and screaming. They reminded me of amphetamine capsules imitating the Keystone Cops. Lots of people laughed.
How about Queen Elizabeth II working in a pub as a comedian? I think that is funny.
Minions somewhere between single-cell stage and capsule stage.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Prudent Use of Noise
In "Despicable Me 2", Minions dress as and perform The Village People's "YMCA" in their own language and Y-M-C-A sounds a lot like "Ee Ai Ee O" from Old MacDonald (Had a Farm). In "Minions", they repeat Andy Kauffman's "Ee-bee-da" in a Rock 'n' Roll song chorus. Hilarious.
Irony and Animation
It is ironic that Jacques Tati was respected in America and not in France during his lifetime and that Jerry Lewis is much respected in France and no so much in the USA.
Tati never produced a film animation, but he infused human acting with antics like those of Charlie Chaplain's Little Tramp, Buster Keaton, and the Keystone Cops. This influenced animation artists. French animators adopted these antics for their cartoon characters, including in recent animations like The Triplets of Belleville and the Despicable Me series.
"The Triplets of Belleville" will have you walking out of the theater with a goofy damn grin on your face, wondering what just happened to you.— Roger Ebert, December 26, 2003
Minions are Similar to Other French Animations
The Triplets of Belleville is named by many critics among the Top Ten French films ever made, including both live action and animation. In it, we see the exaggerated physical features of enlarged noses, extreme shortness and tallness, and beachball-fat people - even a fat Statue of Liberty.
Triplets demonstrates impossibilities like the use of a refrigerator as a musical instrument, layers of slapstick concerning the Tour de France, and old women singers from French music halls frog hunting with dynamite in the Hudson River at night. Even as their pot boils on the stove, a frog crawls out to freedom (and "frog" is a derogatory nickname for a French person).
We see similarities in Minions - gibberish, explosions, characters with big noses, fat Americans, incongruous situations, and chase scenes like those of the Keystone Cops. We even see a bit of politics about the 1969 Moon Landing. The sound track is made of 1960s pop and rock songs that fit the action.
Banana Song in Tribute to Their Favorite Food
In the "Despicable Me" and "Minions" films, all of the Minions' voices are done by the film director, Pierre Coffin.
Like Tati, director Coffin compares children and adults. We often see Minions caring for other Minions and for adult humans as if they are children.
Most of the human characters consider all the Minions children, but act childishly (humorously) themselves and speak of childhood dreams. One woman still carries her childhood drawings with her. Children and adults are the same.
The British are known for broad humor in music hall revues and apparently, so are the French.
Interestingly, Jacques Tati performed in French music halls after working for his own father as a picture framer, which gave him perspective to consider each movie frame filmed later. Tati was influenced by French animation and has influenced animation himself for about a century. Minions is one example, and the film is fun to watch.
- Ebert, Roger. The Triplets of Belleville. RogerEbert.com. 2003. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-triplets-of-belleville-2003 Retrieved July 4, 2015.
- Funk, A. Who Is The Voice Of The Minions? Meet The Guy Behind Everyone's Favorite Yellow Henchmen Bustle.com https://bit.ly/2FpjQ0a Retrieved July 19, 2015.
- Neupert, Richard. French Animation History. Wiley-Blackwell, pub. 2011.
- Terkel, Studs. The Studs Terkel Interviews: Film and Theater. (Pulitzer Prize) The New Press. 2008.
- Travers, James. Jacques Tati Biography (1908 - 1982) in Films de France. 2002. http://www.filmsdefrance.com/biography/jacques-tati.html Retrieved July 6, 2015.
© 2015 Patty Inglish MS