I saw both Despicable Me and the sequel at the theater. And I just watched both again recently on DVD. And it amazes me that I’ve never written about them. That’s because they are more or less perfect entertainments. They are funny and sweet. Agnes is adorable and of course she melts the evil genius’ heart. The second film has a weaker plot, but it is hard to notice. The characters are all so engaging that it is just fun to hang out with them. What actually happens doesn’t matter except that it all works out and Agnes is happy in the end. So you can add both these films to the list of films like His Girl Friday that I put on when I need cheering up.
But I want to discuss a more serious element of the film: the minions. They could have been handled so poorly. And, in fact, I think the Oompa-Loompas in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory are handled poorly. (That’s isn’t so true of the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or the 2005 film.) The Oompa-Loompas all seem so grim that they come off more as slaves than employees. The minions, on the other hand, are very explicitly employees. And this actually creates a context for Gru’s evil schemes that allows for the final resolution in the first film and the entire second film to work.
A fair amount of time is spent in the first film establishing that Gru is no more evil than your average small businessman, and that being evil is just his profession and not something that reflects on who he really is. For example, he goes to the Bank of Evil and is turned down for a loan. But most of all, there is his relationship with his minions. Gru is what I would call, the Good Boss. He still considers himself above the minions, pays them poorly, and is demanding. But the minions seem happy. Gru is clearly lenient enough that he allows them to goof around while on the job.
There is every indication that Gru created the minions. Thus, the fact that he treats them as independent is important. They are most clearly not slaves. What’s more, that implies that they are the way Gru wants them to be. They represent his id. And are the minions ever id! We see both the good side of this (their constant delight at life) and the bad side (constant fighting with each other). And the bad side is sweet in its own way—no one gets hurt and it never lasts long.
The minions remind me of the start of the film Swimming to Cambodia. Spalding Gray is talking about the Thai waiters and he says:
That’s the minions right there. They are always having a good time. And I think that’s why I don’t mind all the fart jokes the snickering at things like the last name of Silas Ramsbottom. It’s impossible not to be swept away with their enthusiasm.
So you might be wondering why I’m so focused on the minions—why I’ve over-thought them. It is a form of apologetics. I don’t want to have to worry that there is some kind of festering thematic problem hidden in the film. Of course, there are some problems: the division of people into good and bad; gender and racial stereotypes; fat shaming and so on. What’s more, the minions themselves are an explicit class. But it would be impossible for a work of art to not reflect many of the same problems that exist in society and still be coherent. The problem with most big budget films is that they celebrate problems in our society.
I feel safe with the Despicable Me franchise.
 I just learned that there will be prequel, Minions about the minions before they met Gru. So he did not create them. This doesn’t actually make any sense and I doubt it was the original idea. But it doesn’t much matter. Clearly Gru and the minions are kindred kinds.
For the record, the plot from Wikipedia: