Completely stupid, but terribly endearing: the Minions have carved out, in a decade, a place among the most profitable characters in animation. A look back at a Franco-American success story, before the release of the new opus. Minions 2: Once Upon a Time Gru is released on Friday in the United States, England and China, and on July 6 in France, two years late, due to the pandemic. A release awaited by millions of fans: the franchise, since the first installment, Despicable Me (2010), has grossed 3.7 billion dollars at the box office, according to the specialized site IMDB, not counting the multiple derivatives , making it one of the most profitable in history. Scenario reduced to a minimum, frenetic succession of gags sometimes at the level of the daisies… “The main thing in these films is just to be stupid and have fun “, cheerfully assumes with AFP the American director of the last film, Kyle Balda. Dirty capsule-shaped brats, with yellow bodies dressed in overalls, the Minions were originally just secondary characters, but stole the show from Gru, the ugly-mean anti-hero of Me. From 2015, they are at the heart of a first spin-off, Les Minions. A risky bet, to fit an entire film on characters speaking in an invented and random mixture of Latin and Asian languages. But won: a billion dollars in box office receipts. “Of course they talk. But nobody understands what they say!” laughs Kyle Balda, who likes to draw inspiration from classics like Charlie Chaplin or Jacques Tati: making people laugh “without depending on the dialogues”, for an animation director, it’s like “climbing Everest”, he raises. In spirit, burlesque and anarchic, the success of the Minions “can be compared to that of the Raving Rabbids” in video games, endearing and stupid too, points out Gersende Bollut, author of works on animation who collaborates on the specialized magazine Animascope.”Flower power”The new opus does not change a proven formula, at the risk of repetition. The film goes back to the beginnings of Gru, this failed villain: surrounded by an army of Minions, the teenager hopes to join a group of supervillains, the Vicious 6. A project that will inevitably go off the rails. Only the decor changes, a dive into the San Francisco of the “flower power” of the 1970s, with an introduction to martial arts (a nod to the Shaolin Soccer spirit) and cover of hits, including a Minions version of the Stones ( “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). Universal, which holds with The Minions one of the few brands likely to face other animation giants, waited two years because of the pandemic to release this new opus of a saga still produced on both sides of the Atlantic. If the Frenchman Pierre Coffin, father of the Minions and probably the only human being to master their language, is no longer co-director, he still watches closely over his creation, and still records all the voices of the Minions. Parisian offices of the tricolor Mac Guff studios that bring the Minions to life, with a neat but somewhat standardized image. On the Hollywood side, they are produced by the American Christopher Meledandri, head of the Illumination studio. Much less known to the general public than Pixar and DreamWorks, the latter “has always wanted to compete” with these studios which have revolutionized animation, analyzes Gersende Bollut. At the box office, “Illumination succeeded”, with, in addition to The Minions, the successes of Like Beasts and All on Stage, but without obtaining the same prestige or the same recognition, he continues. The studio will quickly make people talk about it again: the Illumination teams are working on the animated cinema version of the legendary video game Super Mario Bros., expected in 2023. As for the Minions, “I don’t think it’s over. There’s clearly has a future for these characters”, slice Kyle Balda.