Despicable Me

They look practically indistinguishable from one another and often blur together into one massive horde, but the Minions have emerged as the most recognizable characters to come out of the Despicable Me franchise. Even those who wouldn’t be able to pick the films’ ostensible protagonist Gru out of a lineup are familiar with the creatures, and they’ve even proven popular enough to inspire their own spinoff.

Much of their popularity comes from their distinctive look: they’re small, round, yellow, and abso-freakin’-lutely adorable. But they didn’t always look that way. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud revealed in a recent interview that in fact, these little guys started out looking less like cheese puffs and more like big ugly orcs. Hit the jump to learn how they evolved.

Speaking at a Variety event, Coffin and Renaud explained that they’d originally come up with the Minions as a way to make Gru more likable. “We needed to make Gru sympathetic and the easy way was to actually have him surrounded by incompetence,” said Coffin, who also voices a bunch of the Minions. Renaud added, “Then you can understand his frustration.”

At first, they envisioned Gru’s inept henchmen as hulking monsters. “Initially the Minions were supposed to be this army of Orc-like brutes, but they just kept becoming smaller and smaller,” said Coffin. Eventually, they became the cute, funny little things we know and love today.

The creative process is a complicated thing, and sometimes what ends up on the screen barely resembles the original idea. Indeed, the way these Minions came to be sounds not unlike the way we wound up with Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. George Lucas’ original plan was to have a primitive tribe bring down the Empire, and once the Wookiees proved too technologically competent he dreamt up the Ewoks. The fact that a race of, basically, sentient teddy bears is merchandising tie-in gold presumably wasn’t lost on him either.

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