When I was in France a few years ago, in the Summer of 2015, something was quite striking: there were a shit ton of Minions, the yellow pill-shaped bumbling banana people from the Despicable Me franchise who were eventually given their own movie.
We saw cakes in the shape of Minions, t-shirts for adults with Minions, toys and candies tied into Minions: they were everywhere. While many in America might be a little miffed or confused or generally annoyed by these psychobabling Tic Tacs, the French love the characters (or, at least, that’s what was observed in passing). I have a few ideas why this might be the case.
First, “minion” is a homonym for the French word “mignon” meaning “cute.” The word recalls that of the adorable, enforcing that they are little dumplings to be eaten up instead of toxic movie fodder to push away.
This is likely not a coincidence considering the franchise’s creator—Pierre Coffin—is a French. “I have no clue where that humorous gene comes from,” Coffin told The Guardian in 2015. “But France does have a culture of cartoons.”
That culture of cartoons is putting the matter lightly: the French have a deep tie to comedy in general. The Minions themselves were modeled after The Three Stooges which falls in line with France’s performative history of clowning and of circus culture, which is considered an art form.
Unsurprisingly, all of these elements have coalesced for great branded opportunities for the creatures in the country. They sweep from the very low to the very high end too: French Minion culture isn’t confined to children.
For example: in 2013, the franchise had a tie in with McDonald’s that featured some colorful campaigning. Yes, France has not been the only country getting in with these yellow dudes as Singaporean franchises currently have Minion ice cream and fries. I don’t doubt that special tie-ins are happening in France right now.
Another tie-in, from 2015: a Minion card collection and contest with supermarket Carrefour. The tie-in was a fairly intense affair, heightened by their being nearly six thousand stores spread across France. That’s a lot of places for connecting content.
Most shockingly, high fashion collaborations are bringing Minions to the French elite. For example: designers Karl & Craig created a Minions capsule collection for Colette. In fact, the esteemed luxury retailer has a shit ton of Minions merch: a FujiFilm Minion camera, Moleskin Minion notebooks, Mira Mikati Minion clothing, Karen Mabon Minion accessories, and more. Yes, some of these items aren’t exclusive to Colette but many of the finer items from designers like Mikati and Mabon are. Compare this high-end collab with the fact that nothing of the ilk is happening at Opening Ceremony in America and you can see the cultural difference clearly.
As the latest Despicable Me film hits theatres and we cringe at more bananas and words like “bello,” know that it’s not all bad: it’s quite cute and beloved in places like France and why the figures are secretly feminist. For whatever reason, that makes these animated equivalents to shitposts much more tolerable. They’re almost endearing, given their being birthed by and nearly for a French audience. That might not absolve them of their annoyances but it certainly adds an intricacy to their story.