‘Minions’ Mania Means Adjusted Expectations for Animated Films

‘Minions’ Mania Means Adjusted Expectations Animated
Illustration: VIP+: Adobe Stock; Courtesy Universal Pictures

The pandemic has been hard on animated films. Many families have grown acclimated to streaming, causing big brands like Pixar to see their theatrical releases altered as a result.

But not “Minions.”

Animation studio Illumination and parent company Universal’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” had an incredible long weekend at the box office, raking in $125 million over the four-day weekend to set a new domestic record for the Fourth of July holiday that beat the $116 million debut set by Paramount’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” in 2011.

“Rise of Gru” is also by and large the best animated opener of the pandemic.

Its three-day $107 million opening is more than twice what Pixar’s “Lightyear” opened to in June after Disney finally let one of the studio’s films hit theaters instead of Disney+.

Beyond just its own genre, “Rise of Gru” is also the first animated film to rank among the top 10 overall openers of the pandemic, earning more than Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and several Marvel films released by Disney and Sony.

This opening for “Rise of Gru” is additionally impressive given that projections ahead of the weekend were much lower, with its opening expected to land between $65 million and $75 million. Instead, “Rise of Gru” nearly matched the opening of its 2015 predecessor, itself a billion-dollar global grosser.

What this means for the next animated films on the docket is tough to say. A big reason projections came in low was because of “Lightyear’s” more lackluster opening, even if that film was briefly the best pandemic opening for an animated film.

But as successful as the “Toy Story” franchise has been, “Lightyear” was a somewhat unique entry. More than just the first theatrical spinoff of the Pixar franchise, “Lightyear,” by its own admission, was a film based on the franchise-within-a-franchise that led to the launch of the Buzz Lightyear toy line.

Disney was still confident enough to give it an exclusive theatrical release, as the prior Pixar films that debuted on Disney+ were all new properties for the studio. Given that “Lightyear” did not generate a ton of (ahem) buzz, it does underscore why Disney would want to be cautious with family films.

Plus, the long-enduring success of 2015’s “Minions” also turned the “Despicable Me” offshoot into a fixation of meme culture, resulting in some of the holiday weekend’s audience for the sequel consisting of adolescents and young adults showing up to theaters in formal wear as part of a TikTok trend.

With school out and children’s appetites now satiated, the success of “Rise of Gru” certainly has the chance to shine a bigger spotlight on other hopefuls hitting theaters this summer and beyond.

This month, theaters will see “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” and “DC League of Super-Pets" from Paramount and Warner Bros., respectively. In “Paws of Fury,” a dog is trained by a cat to be a samurai, while “Super-Pets” is a standalone entry separate from the wider DC Extended Universe whose premise is reminiscent of one of Illumination’s other successful franchises, “The Secret Life of Pets,” albeit with a superhero spin.

Both films seem more in line with the silliness of the “Minions” films as opposed to the more high-brow premise of “Lightyear,” so they stand a chance at carrying the momentum now built by “Rise of Gru.” Likewise, Universal will have another animated go at the box office come the December holidays via “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” a sequel to its spinoff of the “Shrek” franchise, which like “Minions” also has a heavy meme following obsessed with the titular ogre and the song “All Star” by Smash Mouth.

Additionally, November’s brightly hued “Strange World” from Disney Animation could be a return to form for the studio that improves upon the $27 million opening earned by last year’s “Encanto,” which also released in November.

As much as exhibitors may still be basking in the glow of “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion,” the box office clearly has more revival milestones left in store, and “Rise of Gru” has now delivered as such for animated films.

VIP+ Analysis: ‘Rise of Gru’ Is End of 2020 Movie-Delay Mayhem