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Latest 'Minions' movie set a box office record for the July 4th weekend

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Even if you haven't seen the movies, you probably know the sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU")

PIERRE COFFIN: (As minion, speaking Minionese).

FADEL: Minions return this weekend in their fifth film, called "Minions: The Rise Of Gru." The little yellow creatures swept away the U.S. box office, bringing in $125 million over four days and setting a box office record for the July 4 weekend. Stephen Thompson is a co-host on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and he's here to tell us why. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: OK, so for those who are not in the Minion know, just give us a quick summary of "The Rise Of Gru" before we get into this.

THOMPSON: Well, it's basically a sequel to a prequel to the "Despicable Me" movies, which is kind of complicated, but basically you're getting the early days of the lovable supervillain Gru and how he came to become a supervillain and work with the Minions. It's set in 1976. So for parents of a certain age like me, you get a certain amount of nostalgia, which helps even when the jokes don't quite land.

FADEL: OK, so I've been seeing the videos of men - not kids - filling into theaters to see this animated movie dressed up in suits. What's going on?

THOMPSON: Well, there's a trend fueled by TikTok where you get groups of these young guys - usually young guys - gathering in formalwear and calling themselves GentleMinions.

FADEL: OK.

THOMPSON: So you got, like, you know, just groups of young dudes. And there have actually been theaters that have said they won't accept groups in formalwear because some of these groups have been kind of noisy and disruptive, throwing bananas at the screen and stuff like that. But it sort of speaks to the way the "Minions" franchise has kind of somehow managed to thread the needle where they have this really widespread mainstream acceptance, but also childhood nostalgia for, you know, 20, 25-year-olds. You know, for people that age, the first "Despicable Me" movie's a childhood memory. But you also get a little bit of ironic appreciation. So you have massive mainstream exception - acceptance, but also irony.

FADEL: So is that the reason that this movie set a record this weekend? I mean, is it also good?

THOMPSON: Well, I've seen the movie, and I think it's fine. It's very colorful and bright and lighthearted. It's 90 minutes, so you kind of get in and out pretty quickly. You don't have the bloat that you get with some overstuffed kind of summer sequels. The soundtrack is surprisingly great. It's got a really fun voice cast. Taraji P. Henson is having a complete blast. You know, I would have taken a few more jokes and a little bit less kind of just body humor. But, you know, it's fun to look at.

FADEL: So maybe TikTok helped the box office weekend for them, the box office success. But also is it a sign that families are feeling safe? And I'm talking about the pandemic here - going back inside and to movie theaters now.

THOMPSON: I mean, I think that this is definitely a sign of that. I mean, anytime you're seeing the box office this strong, tons of people are going back into theaters and feeling comfortable doing so. I think it's a sign - you look at the success of movies like this and "Doctor Strange" and "Top Gun: Maverick." I think what we're seeing is at least that people are willing to come back to movies that feel like events. I think there's still a sign that smaller movies are struggling - you know, aren't doing quite as well. But if you have a movie that feels like a big, big event, a big - you know, it's tied into a franchise, then, you know, then we're seeing success.

FADEL: That's Stephen Thompson, co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Thanks, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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