Pierre Coffin interview: Minions, bananas, the future

The Minions co-director talks to us about voicing the minions, their universal language, and what the future holds...

Pierre Coffin is one of the men you have to blame for the minions. He lends his voice to the little critters, and has co-directed the two Despicable Me movies to date, as well as the incoming Minions standalone feature. He spared us some time to chat about the project…

Can you tell us at which point you realised the minions were going to take over your life? The moment when you realized you had something with them? When you made the first Despicable Me, it must have felt like a bit of a bubble, but then suddenly it becomes apparent you’ve really clicked with something…

For me that moment was when I did the teaser for Despicable Me 2 with the Minions doing ‘banana’. And when I saw all these people just mimicking the choreography, that’s when I lost all hope! [Laughs]

Can you take us back to your own animation influences, then? Who were the people who sparked your own interest?

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Oh, when I was a kid, I was raised up with all the Disney classics. That’s really not original! The Jungle Book was the one that was right up there. Then the second eye-opener for me was The Simpsons. When I saw the pilot for the very first show. I remember thinking ‘oh my god, this is going on TV’. It’s politically totally incorrect, the humor is just awesome. It was very adult for a kids’ show, although it’s broader than that, more a family show. And then the third one was Aardman, and the Creature Comforts short, with the animals talking. That was all about character, about subtle movement, the lip sync, the naturalism of the voice. Everything was perfect in that short.

You talk about the ‘banana’ moment: do you manage to keep the same level of fun in your own day to day work, or once you realise just how popular the minions are, does the pressure really ramp up? When the Minions movie was announced, lots of people just went – yep – bananas for it…

[Laughs] It’s a weird word! The pressure was more coming off at weird angles. It wasn’t going to come from my producer, Chris Meledandri, nor from the studio. It was more going to come from how am I going to convince people to go and see this movie, outside of all the marketing stuff that’s going to happen. I can’t walk in a toy store in a foreign country without seeing a kid with a minion backpack. It’s overwhelming to the point where I’m sort of wondering if that’s not doing the movie a disservice.

That’s exactly how me and Kyle [co-director] saw it. We were so scared to lose the battle, we took it the other way around. We tried to forget about everything that was going to happen around the film, to ignore the expectations of people who think the film is going to be funny every ten seconds. We can’t do that. It doesn’t make for a good movie.

So we said let’s put in there the reasons why we wanted to make the movie. That I was brought up in a certain way, with classic musicals like Singing In The Rain. Let’s put some of those in there, and pepper it with some cool gadgetry from James Bond, that I love also. Let’s play around with the grading of the movie, and make it like a time piece, as opposed to something happening in the 60s without giving out the look of the 60s. Let’s play around with the music, and have the soundtrack be slightly unexpected for a kids’ movie.

You have the longest post credits sequence I think I’ve seen to date as well.

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I do!

It’s a proper reward for sitting through the credit. People sometimes leave the odd scene, you go for a full musical number!

Yeah. We had this idea where we just wanted to treat the people who had the courage to stay after all the names! So we just put that whole big chunk of thing where anything was possible. Let’s have all the characters from the movie come and sing at the very end! And all the credit goes to Chris, my producer, who said ‘yeah sure.’

Is your life minions now? Are you planting the seeds for a Minions Movie Universe with this one? That’s the way cinema goes now I think!

Oh god yeah, I don’t know. I really don’t. All these things, we want to try and look smart, but we end up looking like fools. I think that’s where everyone wants us to go, but I’m not sure we’d be successful at it. It’s just that whole language thing. The minions speak in a universal language now, but when you go back to the first film, they were talking very nonsensical stuff. With the second one, I thought I can’t invent words any more! So I used stuff from Indian cuisine, or French paintings. It was totally stupid, but it totally made sense!

Then with the third, in the Minion movie, we establish that the minions have been around forever, and that they’ve been going all over the world for different masters. So it made sense that they would speak all these different languages. It’s not about the words, it’s more about the melody of these words put together.

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In terms of your own future, appreciating that you’re going to be voicing minions for the rest of your life, where do you want your own film making to go? Is animation always going to be your first love, or is there a live action project on your radar?

I want to try to make something very small, so if it fails, I won’t be ashamed of it [laughs]. But if [a live action] project ever comes true, it will be something in the style of comedy and burlesque, paying tribute to all the guys who have been inspiring all the animators around the world. That’s what I’m trying to get my head around!

Pierre Coffin, thank you very much!