Friday 13 November 2015

Bond memes in Despicable Me and Minions

Another reference to Bond
I have to confess that I did not especially enjoy Despicable Me (2010). I found it a little dull, to be honest. Still, the film does contain aspects that derive from the James Bond films, which is to its credit. These references are obvious enough. The protagonist, Gru (presumably named after the GRU, the Soviet-era military intelligence agency), is a criminal mastermind who plans to steal the moon. He naturally recalls Blofeld, and the link is reinforced by his large workforce of minions, known of course as Minions, whose uniforms and loyalty parody the private armies of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice or Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There are more allusions to the Bond films in the sequel, Despicable Me 2 (2013), which I enjoyed more (another case of the sequel being better than the original?). Having turned away villainy and settled down to family life and jam-making, Gru is persuaded by the Anti-Villain League (AVL), headed by M-like character Silas, to join forces with AVL agent Lucy. The powerful substance PX-41 has been stolen and their task is to track down the culprit. Lucy drives an unprepossessing car, but, as one might expect from a spy's car, has its fair share of gadgets. One of these is revealed when the car plunges into the water, the vehicle rapidly transforming into an underwater car. In another sequence, the car becomes a flying car.

The car's submersible and aerial capabilities bring to mind Bond's submersible Lotus Esprit (Wet Nellie) in The Spy Who Loved Me and Scaramanga's flying car in The Man With The Golden Gun. As I discussed in a previous blog post, the idea of a flying and underwater car has an older origin; For example, Robur the Conqueror, the super-villain in Jules Verne's 1904 novel Master of the World, has one. That said, James Bond's vehicles undoubtedly have greater cultural penetration, being the more recent and enjoying frequent exposure on big and small screens everywhere.

Apart from Gru, the film alludes again to Blofeld. Following a lead, Gru and Lucy enter a wig shop. They see the back of a chair in which the proprietor, Floyd Eagle-san is sitting. He rotates his chair to face Gru and Lucy, and on his lap is what we assume is a white cat, but which is then revealed to be a wig. It's a clever nod to Blofeld, particularly his appearance in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

The association between cats and villainy (not necessarily originating with the Bond films, but boosted by them) is referenced in the third film, Minions (2015), which is a prequel set in the 1960s (the decade itself being an acknowledgement of the period that introduced the Bond films and saw the rise of spy- (as well as Bond-) mania). Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob hitch a ride with a family, the Nelsons, on their way to Villain Con. The family's young daughter, tells the Minions of her ambition to be a super-villain, picking up and stroking her pet cat as she does so.

Bondian traits make a small but important contribution to the construction of the Despicable Me/Minions films. Interestingly, it's Blofeld, rather than Bond, who provides the principal references. Given that at the time the films were made, Blofeld had not been seen on screen since 1971 (or 1981 with For Your Eyes Only), the films are testament to the character's continued cultural prominence.

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