Meddling with Minions

08/26/2022
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    Moviegoers walk past an ad for Minions: The Rise of Gru in Beijing. (AP/Ng Han Guan)

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When Minions: The Rise of Gru arrived in Chinese theaters on August 19, some viewers noticed something a bit . . . different.

Kids (and grownups!) have loved Minions ever since their introduction in 2010’s Despicable Me. These clumsy yellow henchmen assist the lovable supervillain Gru in his schemes.

The Minions have plenty of fans in China. But Chinese fans received a somewhat altered version of this year’s Minions movie. Their version includes a series of post-scripts, revising the endings for several characters.

Minions: The Rise of Gru features a villainous mentor named Wild Knuckles (no relation to the fictional red echidna of a similar name). In the original film—spoiler alert!—Wild Knuckles drives off into the sunset. In Chinese theaters, a mid-credits line tells another story: Wild Knuckles attempted another crime and went to prison for 20 years.

The title character, Gru, also gets an edited ending. The Chinese credits say he gives up villainy, joins the good guys, and even has three daughters. Fans of Despicable Me will know this isn’t quite the case.

Some viewers think these new endings teach kids correct values. After all, shouldn’t villains reform or face punishment? Others find the changes unnecessary. They don’t see the need for an ending with “positive energy.”

“Positive energy” is a catchphrase in China’s Communist Party. The Party pushes for uplifting messages in movies and other media.

China doesn’t have a film rating system. You won’t see “G” or “PG” on Chinese movie posters. Instead, Chinese officials ask movie producers to edit whatever their government deems inappropriate.

Often, Hollywood happily obliges. China brings a huge box office return. If a studio can’t release its summer blockbuster in China, it loses millions of dollars.

A government can mandate “positive energy” on the silver screen. But what about the world outside the theater? China’s Communist regime has caused much suffering. By enforcing happiness in art, officials might distract the public for a time. But how long can that last?

Wild Knuckles faces fictional justice in Chinese theaters. But the real-world villains remain at large.

There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Ecclesiastes 7:15

(Moviegoers walk past an ad for Minions: The Rise of Gru in Beijing. AP/Ng Han Guan)