Minions! You know them, even if you don’t want to. The banana-yellow, denim-clad, booger-shaped thingamabobs are so popular that they’ve overtaken the film franchise in which they originated. They’ve had their images stitched onto every piece of merchandise possible—sanctioned or not—and probably make up the bulk of those memes your one relative won’t stop posting on Facebook. They’re agents of chaos, and their latest film, Minions: The Rise of Gru, just broke the box-office record for a debut over the Fourth of July weekend.
Because of course it did. Children can’t get enough of the Minions, which are essentially toddlers themselves, needy and nonsensical in their babbling but sweet and vulnerable. Teenagers are nostalgic for them; the Minions began their dominance 12 years ago, with the release of Despicable Me. And adults can enjoy the vocal performances of a stacked cast, including Alan Arkin, Julie Andrews, Michelle Yeoh, and Taraji P. Henson. Take it from Steve Carell, who plays Gru, the Minions’ boss: “They are the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers,” he said in an interview. “They’re endearing and silly and can kind of get away with anything … [They’re] a stroke of genius, certainly in terms of marketing.”
And yet, the Minions’ success has been met with confusion—and maybe even a hint of panic. Variety interviewed Minions fans who dressed up in suits for screenings because of a TikTok trend, calling such #gentleminions “largely innocuous albeit startling.” The Washington Post deemed the costume fad “somewhat bizarre.” Theaters began banning well-outfitted viewers from showings, reportedly in response to fans who got too rowdy. The overall tone is one of bafflement: This was an “unusually large showing among teenagers for an animated movie,” The Hollywood Reporter observed. How are there so many devoted Minions stans? It’s bananas! (Sorry.)
C’mon, I thought while reading these assessments. It’s not that deep. For one thing, Gen Z’s do-it-for-the-memes energy contributed to The Rise of Gru’s success, but did not cause it. (If niche fandoms held that much power, Morbius would have done a lot better.) The sentient emoji known as Minions boast a uniquely wide appeal, having developed a second life online that took them from aggravating screen presences to amusing encapsulations of internet humor. The point is to not overthink Minions, but rather embrace them as the perfect malleable cultural objects they are. Minions can be applied to anything: a “joke” about late-stage capitalism, a pun on Shen Yun, a GIF set capturing Tom and Greg’s relationship on the HBO drama Succession. If you sneer at them, you are railing against harmless mayhem. You’ve already lost.
But, okay, if we must overthink Minions, overthink them this way: The people going to see Minions: The Rise of Gru are not actually watching Minions: The Rise of Gru. They are enjoying the thrill of participating in Minion behavior—as in, exuding the essence of the corner of the internet that shitposts in response to the chaotic, nihilistic nature of our reality. To wit: Minion behavior is typing “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” while remaining completely, stoically silent. Minion behavior is watching the YouTube video that plays the entirety of Bee Movie but speeds it up every time the word bee is uttered—and then sending said video to everyone you have ever known. Minion behavior is channeling your underlying anxiety into creating a group chat in which you post Taylor Swift cybersecurity memes until someone responds “what is this?” and then you leave. Minion behavior is gleefully committing to a bit because the alternative is to succumb to maturity. It’s about allowing your id to have its moment.
To be clear, the Minions’s latest triumph is not unearned in artistic terms. The Rise of Gru’s story is instantly forgettable, but the film looks great, moves briskly, and boasts the vocal stylings of a cast that sounds like they’re having the time of their life. (Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a villain named “Jean-Clawed.” Let him have his fun.) For me, an adult attendee with a drink in hand, getting tipsier and tipsier while the children around me hooted and hollered at every glimpse of a Minion butt was a reminder to not resist childlike impulses. That’s the thing about Minions, in the end: In their gobbledygook-infused antics, they somehow reach inside your soul and extract the sense of humor you had as a 5-year-old, so that when you watch Stuart the Minion (voiced, as are all the other Minions, by Pierre Coffin) make fart noises over a plane’s PA system, you can’t help but let out a giggle. Does it matter that there’s no reason for the Minions to be piloting a flight in the first place? Please. Sometimes it’s better to just laugh.