I have loved the little yellow absurdities known as the Minions since Despicable Me. I giggle at their antics and their lovable interactions with the three adopted girls, Margo, Edith, and Agnes.
Are there problems with the movies? Yes. Sexist tropes by the handful, stupid scatological jokes, and mean parents, and violence to name a few.
And okay, I get that there are huge problems with the gender stereotyping in Minions. My friend, Melissa, at Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies has a great article about the problems of gender in animated movies, in general, starting with specific issues with Minions.
When Melissa first brought this up on Facebook, I was a little chagrined that I hadn’t actually noticed. Minions have always been genderless, or gender-fluid to me, so the fact the three main minions were named Kevin, Stuart and Bob just kinda flew by me. Yeah, okay they’re male names but honestly, I didn’t see anything particularly male about them. Except Bob. Bob has always been a goofy little boy who flirts with yellow fire hydrants pretending to be a player and failing. As the narrator says, “Bob’s an idiot.” Bob has always been like that, in all three movies.
Kevin is the leader. He’s the one who steps up to go on a quest to save the minions from the mind-numbing leaderless time they’re spending in ice caves. Minions need someone to serve, and Kevin volunteers to lead the quest. When he sees Scarlet Overkill, it is game over for him. He falls in love with her, not because she is some ideal of feminine beauty but because she is the most evil villain in the world and he wants to work for her.
And loveable little Stuart hauls his eyeless, over loved teddy bear with him everywhere, adopting animals along the way, including a rat he names Butchie. He’s afraid to enter the larger world and Kevin and Bob make sure he knows they’re right there for him.
I still think it’s brilliant that Scarlet Overkill is the evil villain. She is so deliciously over the top and up to no good. There’s even a little girl sitting in the audience when Scarlet makes her first overblown entrance who stands on her chair and excitedly proclaims, “I want to be just like Scarlet when I grow up.”
Scarlet’s dream doesn’t reach far enough. She only wants to steal the Queen of England’s crown because she wants to be a princess, because, “everyone loves princesses.” Scarlet clearly didn’t get enough love as a child and her stunted childhood dream is to be a princess so people will love her. No super villain has come from a family where there was enough joy and love and support. They wouldn’t be villains if they had.
I also thought it was brilliant that when the minions stole the crown, the Queen started hanging out at the pub drinking pints and telling jokes with the common man. (And yes, they were all men.)
Things happen, Kevin is made king because he stole the crown and that makes Scarlet very angry. But all Kevin wants to do is serve Scarlet, because that’s his purpose in life, to serve. So he abdicates, and then her coronation day gets spoiled by another super villain.
Make no mistake, Scarlet turns into a whiny, petulant child when she doesn’t get her way. She is stuck in a childhood dream which makes no sense. She believes that she must be pretty and have a tiny waist to be adored. And yes, that’s a big problem in terms of gender stereotypes. There’s also a stereotypical gay hairdresser who doesn’t quite understand why his vision isn’t better than the childhood crayon drawing of a stick figure princess with “curly” hair.
At the end of the movie Gru arrives on the scene, uses his freeze ray gun and Kevin knows where the minions belong. This is really the story that connects Despicable Me and the minions, it’s the story about how Gru and the minions found each other.
The biggest problems I had with the movie were not the gender stereotypes but the violence. And the stupid jokes given to Bob who flirts with yellow fire hydrants and shows the audience his thong underwear. That was just idiotic.
For all of that, I’m glad the conversation is ongoing about problems with representation of boys and girls in movies. About how movies sell women and girls short on a regular basis and how men and boys are shortchanged on learning to be anything other than stoic, protective, fumble fingered with emotions, and yes, stupid.
Director Pierre Coffin didn’t help himself by saying he made the minions boys because “boys are stupid” and he couldn’t imagine girls being that stupid. If what he meant to say was that little boys do goofy things because they’re little boys and little girls don’t tend to do the same goofy things, that’s a different story. Saying girls are smarter than boys doesn’t help.
Yes, I see the point of the criticisms of Minions, and I’m glad Melissa’s post addresses some of the larger issues in cartoons and how girls/women are portrayed. I do get it.
From a story-teller’s point of view, it’s the story of three yellow things (out of thousands) who go on a quest to find their purpose in life. It’s the story of how the minions met Gru. That’s the point of the story. That one of the villains is a woman inspiring a little girl is something we should cheer for. That the Queen became a “regular” person is something we should cheer for. It’s a step forward. A small one to be sure, but it is a step. And that’s something to cheer for too.