Universal brings 'Minion Mayhem' to Hollywood theme park

(AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN)

(AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN)

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, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Riding high on the global success of "Despicable Me," the films' makers have teamed up with theme park engineers to produce a tourist ride designed to immerse visitors in "Minion Mayhem."

The Minions -- cute little yellow characters who speak amusing gibberish -- have emerged as stars in their own right from the two movies, which have earned $1.5 billion worldwide.

To prove it, Paris studio Illumination Entertainment is giving them their own film, "The Minions," due out in July 2015, before a third "Despicable Me" instalment in 2017.

Since 2012 the Minions, a huge source of related products, have had a ride dedicated to them at Universal's theme park in Orlando, Florida.

And this coming weekend they will get the Tinseltown treatment in Hollywood itself, with a special "yellow carpet" presentation for a ride twice as big as the Florida one, and equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology.

The idea came from Steve Burke, the head of NBCUniversal, after the success of the first "Despicable Me" film in 2010.

"It was not something we had thought about," Chris Meledandri, the head of Illumination Entertainment, told AFP.

"But of all the extensions of 'Despicable Me,' I think that modelizing these characters with a theme park attraction may be the most exciting for us beyond doing the movie," he added, ahead of the first day of "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" on Saturday.

Nearly 20 minutes of new animated footage were created for the attraction, in which visitors are transformed into Minions themselves, by the magic of 3D video simulation.

"It was very important that we honored the characters and also have the same sense of humor that you see in the movies, the same tone," said Meledandri, who also made sure the voices of other characters -- Steve Carrell as super-villain Gru, in particular -- were the same as in the film.

The Hollywood version of the ride is on a grander scale: it takes 192 people at a time and, while the Orlando version only has Gru's house, the West Coast one recreates his whole neighborhood.

And as well as "Minion Mayhem" itself visitors can also make a splash in "Super Silly Fun Land," a water-play area -- the park's first dedicated to under-8s -- inspired by the funfair in the first "Despicable Me" film.

The ride features the latest in video technology, allowing visitors to be "minionized" in a car which moves in synch with a film on a giant 3D screen. The projectors use the same custom lenses as those designed for NASA's space telescope.

"It's been (projected) at 60 frames per second, 4K resolution and so it looks better than anything you've ever seen out there," the ride's producer Jon Corfino told AFP.

The hydraulic suspension is the most sophisticated Universal has ever used in a theme park.

"It's more articulated, it provides us a higher level of accuracy when we try to recreate very precise motions along with the screen," said Corfino.

While Illumination Entertainment is now working on next year's "The Minions," which will reveal where the funny little men come from, Meledandri admits their success still makes him wonder.

"We knew audience would love them because 300 people were liking them through the making of the film. But we had no idea that tey would go on to become as popular as they are," he said.

The fact that they speak an incomprehensible language does not seem to be a handicap -- in fact it might make them more universal.

"I just can't remember a movie where your three main characters speak a language that you actually can't literally understand but somehow, you know everything that they're saying.

"It's a lot of fun," said Meledandri.


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