Packed with Illumination franchise’s signature subversive humour, Minions: The Rise of Gru brings us the origin story of how the world’s greatest supervillain first met his iconic Minions, forged cinema’s most despicable crew and faced off against the most unstoppable criminal force ever assembled.
Over four films, beginning with 2010’s Despicable Me, Illumination’s Minions have become international icons of mischief, mayhem and joy.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is the fifth film in a franchise that continues to thrill and delight audiences in every country and, consequently, has become the biggest animated global franchise in history, earning more than $3.7 billion worldwide.
Long before he becomes the master of evil, Gru is just an 11 ¾-year-old boy in 1970s suburbia, plotting to take over the world from his basement. It’s not going particularly well. When Gru crosses paths with the Minions, including Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto—a new Minion sporting braces and a desperate need to please—this unexpected family joins forces.
Steered by the franchise’s original creators, Minions: The Rise of Gru is directed by returning franchise filmmaker Kyle Balda (Despicable Me 3, Minions), co-directed by Brad Ableson (The Simpsons) and Jonathan Del Val (The Secret Life of Pets films), from a screenplay by Matthew Fogel.
“The Despicable Me and Minions movies work because, while on one hand, they’re broad, funny and fun…there’s also an emotional resonance that runs through their centre,” says Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri. “They continue to resonate because of the characters. The Minions charm and delight audiences, and even though Gru is a villain, we still find him highly relatable and want him to succeed in any situation.”
Together, Gru and the Minions—with Kevin, Stuart and Bob front-and-center —have engaged in some of cinema’s most elaborate criminal master plans and incredible over-the-top action without ever losing their charm or their emotional connection with audiences.
“While, narratively, movies are generally about protagonists overcoming obstacles, it’s how they do that—and what happens along the way—that needs to surprise and delight,” Meledandri says. “I’m especially proud that our team has been able to create a nostalgic pull toward characters we’ve all grown close to, as well as provide a sense of discovery with all these new elements.”
The most recent two franchise films were directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin. Both films earned more than $1 billion worldwide, and Balda now returns as solo director for Minions: The Rise of Gru. The origin story reveals how Gru first met the Minions and forged a bond that has endured the rest of their lives.
“The first Minions film gave you some background about who the Minions are, what they want and what their goals are, and their main goal was to serve a big boss,” Balda says. “With Minions: The Rise of Gru, we go a step further when we have them meet Gru, their ultimate boss, and we get to see a little bit more about where Gru is in his life as an 11 ¾-year-old aspiring villain. We see how the Minions support his ideas and what he wants to become. Gru is a little resistant toward the Minions in the beginning, so the Minions have a lot of work to do to win him over.”
The Rise of Gru takes the franchise into new territory on multiple levels, and, notably, to a new time: The 1970s
The decade provided the filmmakers with a diamond mine of music, fashion and pop-culture reference to excavate. “I was about the same age that Gru is in our film when I grew up in the ’70s, so it’s very personal to me,” Balda says. “The television, the music, the cars, the hairstyles, the bell-bottoms—there was just a lot of flair to everything. And with the vibrant colours, the sparkles, disco—it was a visual decade, for sure, and very nostalgic to look back at this era for inspiration.”
One particular aspect of 1970s pop culture provided an opportunity to elevate the action in The Rise of Gru to a level never seen in any Illumination film before. “Another major reference and inspiration was kung fu films of the ’70s,” Balda says. “We scoured a lot of the movies that I enjoyed as a kid. The first one that comes to mind is The 36th Chamber of Shaolin because a lot of the gadgets in that movie were influential to us, but the biggest source of inspiration came through comedic kung fu films. Some of the sequences that we have in this movie are a tribute to that genre and the great work that’s been done in the likes of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer.”
That the film looks and feels like no Minions film you’ve seen before is entirely by design. “It’s so important that every film that we make is distinctive, feels fresh and feels like it’s venturing into new terrain,” Meledandri says. “That’s not only important in terms of character, story and comedy, but it’s also important in terms of the visceral experience of watching the film—what it looks like and sounds like. Everything that’s wonderful in these movies comes out of the imagination and expertise of the hundreds of people who are working on each one of them. They are the fuel that provides the engine of our ability to make them.”
Among the film’s creative achievements is a new sextet of supervillains known as the Vicious 6, each distinct and unforgettable and all voiced by an extraordinary group of actors beloved by fans worldwide
“When we came up with the idea for the Vicious 6, it was important to create a band of villains that would be cool on one hand, but at the same time be a little bit ridiculous and funny,” Balda says. “This is a comedy, after all. The actors that we got to play these characters are legends in their own right. The stars that make up the Vicious 6 brought their own texture and flavor to the identity of each of these villains. Our hope is that when you leave, you’d really want to watch a film about each one of these characters independently.”
At the beginning of the film, Gru’s dream is to become a member of this illustrious team of outlaws, but when they reject him, he ends up stealing their most prized possession, the powerful Zodiac Stone, and ends up becoming their nemesis instead (with a little accidental “help” from Otto and a Pet Rock.) Over the course of the film, Gru discovers that, to quote the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need. Gru may think he wants all the powerful things that a villain wants, but what he needs is somewhere to belong.