When you think about the Despicable Me franchise, the first image that usually pops into mind are those cute little Minions in overalls, talking in their nonsensical language while earnestly (and a bit too cheerfully) trying to help their evil villain boss with whatever evil plan he or she has hatched.

There’s no denying that the Minions are the breakout stars of the franchise – they even got their own spin-off film back in 2015, Minions, which raked in more than US$1bil in the global box-office.

Kyle Balda, co-director of Minions and the newly-released Despicable Me 3, reckons that the reason that the Minions are so popular (other than the fact that they are really funny and fun to watch) is the ironic nature of the characters.

“They want to work for a villain and be bad, but there is nothing really bad about their nature … they like to slap each other, but that’s about as evil as they get! So there’s a bit of irony there that has some appeal, I think.”

Balda, who co-directs Despicable Me 3 with Pierre Coffin (the original creator of the Minions) and Eric Guillon, was in town recently to conduct a master class in film directing, organised by The One Academy and the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas).

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru (Steve Carell) meeting a new arch-nemesis, former child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), and getting fired from his job at the Anti Villain League after losing to the villain.

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He then meets his long-lost, more successful twin brother Dru (Carell as well), and teams up with him to steal a diamond stolen by Bratt.

Balda says that the focus of the new film was on where they could put these characters through next.

“Because there have been two movies already, we’re trying to take the characters in new directions and push them into situations that would be fun to watch. A big part of what we try to explore with this, is the evolution of Gru’s character,” he said.

“When we met him in the first movie, he was all about villainy, but then he found his softer side when he adopted the girls.

“Then, that led to a film where he was recruited by the Anti Villain League, fell in love, got married, and became a family man.”

With the third one, however, Balda said they wanted to snatch a bit of that happiness away from Gru.

“A new arch-nemesis named Balthazar Bratt bests him and he loses his job at the AVL. So in that way, we bring him down a little bit until he meets his brother, and then we play with the tensions between siblings that I think a lot of people can relate to,” said Balda.

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And of course, the Minions are back, and there is an interesting angle between their relationship with their boss as well.

“What the Minions want more than anything is to follow a big boss villain, but their main big boss, Gru, switches to the good side when he joins the AVL,” Balda explained.

“When he loses his job, the Minions think he’ll go back to being a villain, but when that doesn’t happen, a rupture happens in that relationship.”

Balda doesn’t quite agree with the assumption that the Minions have actually become bigger than the franchise that introduced them.

“In the Despicable Me films, the Minions are more supporting characters, and they don’t drive the story forward like in the Minions film. But it is important they have a relationship with Gru and are part of the world,” he said.

“It’s just that this film has a human character, which audiences can relate to more. After all, who knows what’s going on inside a Minion’s head?”