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Best Animated Comedies: The Minions and French Cartooning

Ms. Inglish has been a professional writer and critic of films, books, music and theater for over 20 years.


Most animated features have an almost grotesque desire to be loved.

— Roger Ebert, December 26, 2003

Jacques Tati's Influence on Minions

Why do hordes of people love hordes of Minions from the Despicable Me animated films and cartoon shorts? They are popular enough that they might be able to carry a weekly half hour TV series, like the Penguins of Madagascar.

The yellow capsule-like people wear goggles, black rubber gloves, and black gum shoes or boots with their Americana coveralls, so are they mad scientists or deranged farmers?

They draw viewers in with a comic charm that unites children and the adults who love the Minions. The influence of French filmmaker Jasques Tati (1907 - 1982) is evident in the physical exaggerations in the film Minions' characters, the noises, and the affectionate equating of adults with children. Behind every yellow capsule in denim is the heart of Tati, as the Minions search for a boss they can keep forever.

Are they mad scientists or deranged farmers?

Stuart and Minion Leader Kevin are very important to the history of the species.

Stuart and Minion Leader Kevin are very important to the history of the species.

Applied French Humor

People of various ages respond to Minions, some for the same reasons they enjoy Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977), Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966), Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops (silent films), and Jerry Lewis (1926 - 2017), all of whom the French regard highly. Jacques Tati was influenced by at least the first three.

French Slapstick Humor

The Minions' humor and animation are French influenced and the related films make people laugh, except for the people they cause to grimace. Early July 10, 2015 with $6.2 Million from Thursday early US showings added to the $140+ Million already earned overseas and in California, Rotten Tomatoes movies site showed 10 Top Critics rating the film positively and 19 Top Critics trashing it. Sixty-eight percent of audience opinions were positive.

It is popular for critics to dismiss science fiction and animated films as being "not good enough" genres. Regardless, these film genres make money and produce audience satisfaction overall. Avatar and Frozen are probably the best two recent examples of long term moneymakers.

The French director of Minions worked first as an animator in Paris, training in a school that has placed animators with Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar, and other famous facilities. He worked also for Amblimation, which joined with Dreamworks. Despite negative critics' opinions, even the French director's name is funny - Pierre Coffin.

That would be pronounced cof-feen, rather than coffin -- We see two long black coffins in Minions and one coffin contains Dracula with a nose the size and shape of a giant's carving knife. English speakers may call the director coffin instead of cof-feen, so we see two coffins in the film. I heard many people cracking up over this in the capacity crowd I was in, but other people missed the joke.

One of the silliest scenes in Minions featured about 1,000 of the begoggled creatures dressed as Napoleonic French soldiers, running away and screaming. They reminded me of amphetamine capsules imitating the Keystone Cops. Lots of people laughed.

How about Queen Elizabeth II working in a pub as a comedian? I think that is funny.

Irony and Animation

It is ironic that Jacques Tati was respected in America and not in France during his lifetime and that Jerry Lewis is much respected in France and no so much in the USA.

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Tati never produced a film animation, but he infused human acting with antics like those of Charlie Chaplain's Little Tramp, Buster Keaton, and the Keystone Cops. This influenced animation artists. French animators adopted these antics for their cartoon characters, including in recent animations like The Triplets of Belleville and the Despicable Me series.

"The Triplets of Belleville" will have you walking out of the theater with a goofy damn grin on your face, wondering what just happened to you.

— Roger Ebert, December 26, 2003

 Jacques Tati as his character "M. Hulot." Note the  enlarged nose at this camera angle. The large nose and nostril is a hallmark of some French cartooning.

Jacques Tati as his character "M. Hulot." Note the enlarged nose at this camera angle. The large nose and nostril is a hallmark of some French cartooning.

Minions are Similar to Other French Animations

The Triplets of Belleville is named by many critics among the Top Ten French films ever made, including both live action and animation. In it, we see the exaggerated physical features of enlarged noses, extreme shortness and tallness, and beachball-fat people - even a fat Statue of Liberty.

Triplets demonstrates impossibilities like the use of a refrigerator as a musical instrument, layers of slapstick concerning the Tour de France, and old women singers from French music halls frog hunting with dynamite in the Hudson River at night. Even as their pot boils on the stove, a frog crawls out to freedom (and "frog" is a derogatory nickname for a French person).

We see similarities in Minions - gibberish, explosions, characters with big noses, fat Americans, incongruous situations, and chase scenes like those of the Keystone Cops. We even see a bit of politics about the 1969 Moon Landing. The sound track is made of 1960s pop and rock songs that fit the action.

Banana Song in Tribute to Their Favorite Food

In the "Despicable Me" and "Minions" films, all of the Minions' voices are done by the film director, Pierre Coffin.

Like Tati, director Coffin compares children and adults. We often see Minions caring for other Minions and for adult humans as if they are children.

Most of the human characters consider all the Minions children, but act childishly (humorously) themselves and speak of childhood dreams. One woman still carries her childhood drawings with her. Children and adults are the same.

The British are known for broad humor in music hall revues and apparently, so are the French.

Interestingly, Jacques Tati performed in French music halls after working for his own father as a picture framer, which gave him perspective to consider each movie frame filmed later. Tati was influenced by French animation and has influenced animation himself for about a century. Minions is one example, and the film is fun to watch.

This is Bob's stuffed bear Tim. Why is Tim the Teddy Bear so important? He ties together the children/Minions and the adults.

This is Bob's stuffed bear Tim. Why is Tim the Teddy Bear so important? He ties together the children/Minions and the adults.


  • Ebert, Roger. The Triplets of Belleville. 2003. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  • Funk, A. Who Is The Voice Of The Minions? Meet The Guy Behind Everyone's Favorite Yellow Henchmen Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  • Neupert, Richard. French Animation History. Wiley-Blackwell, pub. 2011.
  • Terkel, Studs. The Studs Terkel Interviews: Film and Theater. (Pulitzer Prize) The New Press. 2008.
  • Travers, James. Jacques Tati Biography (1908 - 1982) in Films de France. 2002. Retrieved July 6, 2015.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Patty Inglish MS


lidialbuquerque on July 24, 2015:

Love the Minions and really enjoyed learning the history of animation! Thanks Patty!!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 12, 2015:

Amazing! - "Minions" box office for its US opening Thursday-Friday-Saturday just ended yesterday at $115.2 Million.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 12, 2015:

@Flipsgeraldine - The history of animation is fascinating! Thanks for commenting!

@KKG - I've seen a couple trailers on TV with a few Minions in thongs and starfish bras and it cracks me up - The Minions eat fruit but have no digestive systems and they have butt cheeks. So weird!

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on July 12, 2015:

Patty, great review on these lovable characters. It's no surprise that they have become so popular and profitable. They are non threatening and just as cute as can be. Have you seen the television commercial with the minion who is wearing a thong?

Yvette Marshall from Houston, Texas on July 11, 2015:

Its always good to know the history behind animation. Thanks,

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 11, 2015:

News reports are that "Minions" in America earned $46.171 million on its first Friday of release, above the $41.7 million opening Friday of Toy Story 3 and the $38.4 million opening Friday of Shrek the Third to become the biggest opening Friday for any animated film in history.

Looks like LOTS of people think its funny. :) Go Minions!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 11, 2015:

@mckbirdbks - The talking caveman Minion supposedly spouts "F*ck", but we are not sure - In the late 1970s, a record packed in the Happy Meals in Columbus, Ohio had the single hit record "Cocaine" substituted for the kid's song. Anything is possible.

Interestingly, I saw French animation from the 1940s on Saturday mornings as a kid and Disney Studio's short cartoons from the 1950s - 1970s reminded me of those French animations.

My favorite animation studios are DreamWorks and Big Idea Productions.

I am happy that I am get to see every animated feature and short that comes to my city! They are all like presents to me.

Glad you liked this wild review! Banana! -[0].[0]-

drbj and sherry from south Florida on July 11, 2015:

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Minions fan - even wrote a hub about this new film when I first learned they would have a movie of their own. I planned to see the movie Friday when it was first shown and learned it was sold out. Now I'll have to wait til sometime next week.

The entire concept and the creative way in which the Minions are depicted appeals to my somewhat skewed sense of humor. It's difficult not to be a fan.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on July 11, 2015:

Hello Patty. What a wild review, filled with lots of historic information and a bundle of laughs. I enjoyed the movie trailer; it is amusing all on its own that McDonald's has franchised some Minion merchandise. Other than Avatar, I cannot recall the last animation film that I saw.

I grew up with the original Disney studio art department and still find them difficult to surpass, though Pixar does a nice job.

You might find following UltimateMovieRanking @BruceCogerson on Twitter of value. Bruce use to be here on Hubpages, but I think he outgrew the audience.

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