My nieces were among those who contributed to the near-record Minions opening weekend. They are just over/under eight-years-old and they saw the film on Thursday at 6:00pm; apparently telling my mother with great excitement that they would be the first audience to see the film. Of course, my daughter gets to see stuff like Minions at press screenings, so it’s a different situation, not better or worse but just different. They all laughed frequently and were quite entertained. That makes sense, as they are the specific target audience that the film was created for and they are in-fact original characters created just a few years ago. In our era of kids being almost force-fed the entertainment icons of their parents’ generation, that counts for something.
Unlike so much of what is expected to entertain the youth of today, they are not hand-me-downs from generations past nor modern day variations of older pop culture characters/stories. Minions scored an estimated (and massive) $115 million opening frame for Universal/Comcast and Illumination last weekend. That success was not born of nostalgia or fan loyalty for a brand created a long time ago. Minions was not meant to entertain adults nor was it a rehash of a previously popular kid-friendly property meant to capitalize on cross-generational interest. They are relatively new characters, created in 2010 by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Sergio Pablos specifically for the young audiences who might be entertained by their slapstick antics in the original Despicable Me.
They are true original pop culture sensations in a pop culture that seems to be run on generational nostalgia. We all know that at least some of this recycling is both stemming from a misplaced presumption that what was hip yesterday will still be hip tomorrow. It is also fueled by the advantages that presold properties have both in traditional marketing and in getting a foothold in social media. I have no idea if kids today are intrigued by the new Fuller House spin-off coming to Netflix, but you can be darn sure that it got far more media attention than if Netflix had merely ripped-off Full House or created a vaguely original show with a similar outline.
And we not only have a Hollywood that revives The X-Files fourteen years after the show ended or brings back a spin-off of Boy Meets World and refuses to let Evil Dead die a natural death, but a pop culture where such news is greeted by adults as the greatest thing ever, where each glimpse of the cast or announcement about a potential story is greeted with maximum and apparently unironic excitement. Much of the excitement over said Star Wars movies seems based on recapturing the magic of a trilogy that ended thirty-two years ago, with much of the hype surrounding the original trilogy’s actors returning to play the same characters they played three decades ago.
Obviously none of this is news to you if you pay attention to the pop culture landscape or even if you read me periodically complaining about this. We just finished The Hobbit trilogy, which cashed in on nostalgia for the book from the 1937 and the Lord of the Rings film series from 2001-2003. Even Adam Sandler’s would-be original Pixels from Sony, which is set to absolutely crush the box office in a couple weeks, is based in nostalgia for 80′s-era video games and has been given a more “adult” PG-13 rating. The end result is that today’s kids have fewer pop culture icons to call their own.
In an era when so much of our entertainment capital is geared towards youth-skewing fantasy films and so many of those fantasy products are based on characters that entertained kids of previous generations and seem almost targeted toward those same kids now as adults, Minions stands out as something of a near-miracle. The characters known as the Minions are just five-years-old, are wholly original cinematic creations, and were created specifically to entertain and amuse the current generation of children. The Minions aren’t for you dear adult, they are for your kids. I may not find Minions as hilarious as my daughter did but (without passing judgment on thoughtful adult moviegoers who enjoyed the film), I rather take comfort in that fact.
The kids of today, my daughter, my nieces, and all of our respective youngsters, need pop-culture icons of their own, ones created today for the kids of today rather than subsisting of rebooting or recycled versions of our heroes. If for that reason alone, I applaud and celebrate the massive success of Minions.