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Minions weren't in original 'Despicable Me' script, but Jawas & Oompa Loompas soon inspired them

Can you imagine Despicable Me without Minions?

By Adam Pockross
Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022)

With three Despicable Me films in the can and one on the way in 2024, as well as a spinoff Minions movie and Minions: The Rise of Gru coming in hot this summer, along with various shorts, web series, video games, and theme park rides, it’s hard to imagine a world in general without Minions, forget about the world of Despicable Me. But did you know that the Minions as we know them weren’t even in the original pitch?

According to a 2013 Los Angeles Times article, there wasn’t even a specific mention made of the diminutive yellow mayhem-makers in the initial draft of the script that would eventually turn into the franchise blaster Despicable Me, written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.

The original concept for Despicable Me was pitched by former Disney Animator Sergio Pablos, who brought the idea to Illumination Entertainment head Chris Meledandri, who then shared the idea with eventual directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. In an interview with Cartoon Brew, Renaud noted that, “Sergio’s character [of Gru] was gothic, although he had the trappings of other things; he sort of looked like Dracula and he had these big, hulking, ogre-like henchmen.”

In the same interview, when asked how the ogres transformed into the Minions we now know and love, Coffin said, “I guess it was an appeal issue for Gru. We kept finding that the sillier it was, the better it was. So the Minions, as these sort of child-like, irresponsible characters sort of help Gru’s appeal. They all love him the way that children unequivocally, without question, love their parents. And so it instantly gave him some likeability because these little guys liked him.”

But they weren’t always childlike, and they weren't always little. Initially, the characters were only put into the script as background characters to help boost the comedy involved in evil mastermind Gru’s nefarious Moon-stealing plan.

As they started to flesh out the characters, Coffin and Renaud began channeling other classic cinematic sycophants, particularly, according to the LA Times article, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa-Loompas – who dutifully serve Mr. Wonka while hauntingly singing the exit music for each greedy Golden Ticket holder – as well as Star Wars’ diminutive droid-robbing Jawas. The filmmakers began to see that shortness was part of their appeal. Renaud also told Cartoon Brew that Minions were influenced by "old Warner Bros. cartoons of the Bugs Bunny tradition."

In order to give life to the little evil enablers, Coffin and Renaud got together with character designer Eric Guillon. According to Vanity Fair, the Minions actually started out, design wise, as short human factory workers, whose size also served to contrast with their taller evil leader.

Soon, their development turned more robotic, as the designers felt audiences might find a bots’ naivety more believable, while they might also be looked upon as a better punching bag. Ultimately, they decided to meld the robots with something more human (or at least more organic) to create something wholly new, and undeniably lovable.   

You’ll get a chance to fall in love with the little trouble makers all over again soon, as Minions: The Rise of Gru opens wide in theaters July 1. In the meantime, Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, and the first Minions movie are streaming now on Peacock.