Universal Studios Hollywood taps into 'Despicable Me's' minion power

Their yellow, begoggled faces have covered billboards, blanketed toy store shelves, appeared in music videos and mobile games. So it's only logical that family cinema's ubiquitous, gibberish-speaking stars, the minions of "Despicable Me," now have their own theme park attraction — Despicable Me Minion Mayhem — at Universal Studios Hollywood.

For the uninitiated, "Despicable Me" is an animated film series centered on Gru, a supervillain voiced by Steve Carell who, uncharacteristically for a man who makes his living trying to steal the moon, adopts three daughters from an orphanage. When the first "Despicable Me" movie became a surprise hit in 2010 on the strength of its internationally accessible humor and warmth, the minions — Gru's mischievous support staff — were its breakout stars.

"Despicable Me" ride: An April 6 article about the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride incorrectly indicated that the attraction would open April 10. It was scheduled to open April 12. It also described the ride as not being part of Universal Studios' $1.6-billion, 25-year expansion plan. The ride is part of that plan. —

The "Despicable Me" films grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide and two more are due — in 2015, Universal Pictures will release "The Minions," a spinoff origins story about the characters, and in 2017 the studio plans "Despicable Me 3."

PHOTOS: Box office top 10 of 2013

The chief task for the creators of the new attraction, which opens to the public on April 12, was to tell an interactive story in the ride that fit within the evolving narrative of the minions, according to Chris Meledandri, founder and chief executive of Illumination Entertainment, the Santa Monica-based animation company behind the films.

"It was important for us to make sure the experience of the ride was true to the experience of the film but was taking you beyond where you went in the first movie," Meledandri said. "We also didn't want to step on where we were going in either the minion movie or the sequel."

The attraction's designers also wanted to preserve the vibrant, Goreyesque visual style of the films — much of them set in Gru's purple brick suburban home — and to build a sufficiently exciting ride that would satisfy kids and adults without making anybody puke.

To meet all those criteria, the ride's designers settled on the idea of "minionization," in which Gru, in an introductory video voiced by Carell, announces that he wants to train the park's visitors to become minions. Meledandri's team, including "Despicable Me" director Pierre Coffin, "The Minions" writer Brian Lynch and animator Chris Bailey, worked together with artists from Universal Creative, the group responsible for designing the company's theme parks and rides.

BEST MOVIES OF 2013: Turan | Sharkey | Olsen

"The idea of training you to become a minion felt like an opportunity to be active and immersive," Meledandri said. "You yourself are becoming characters the audience loves." Before founding Illumination, Meledandri produced the "Ice Age" movies for Twentieth Century Fox, which the studio is now turning into a theme park attraction in Malaysia.

The new minion attraction replaces another movie ride, the "Terminator"-themed T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, which opened at Universal's Hollywood theme park in 1999. Though cutting-edge at the time of its installation, the ride had seen attendance dip, according to Jon Corfino, show producer and Universal Creative project director.

"They run through their natural cycles," Corfino said of how the park decides when to replace a ride. (The Jurassic Park ride, which opened in 1996, is the park's oldest.)

The minion ride is part of Universal's $1.6-billion, 25-year expansion, including construction of a highly anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction.

Universal started planning the "Despicable Me" attraction not long after the release of the first film, and Universal Studios Orlando has already opened a smaller version of the ride.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of movies and TV

"The energy of the minions was what was appealing," said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. "One of the greater challenges was to take a 2-D medium and translate it into a 3-D practical environment that has to stand the test of time and weather and all the climatological things."

The exterior of the new ride will be familiar to audiences of the "Despicable Me" films: The facade is a row of charming suburban houses, with Gru's menacing purple home and dead lawn at the center. Beside Gru's house is a cheery brick building, Miss Hattie's Home for Girls, the orphanage where Gru's daughters, Margo, Edith and Agnes used to live.