By Piya Sinha-Roy
UNIVERSAL CITY, California (Reuters) - The adorable yellow goggle-wearing Minions of "Despicable Me" are not just taking over the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood, they're ringing in a revamp of the film-themed park as it takes on competing resorts with blockbuster rides.
"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem," which officially opens on Saturday at the Hollywood adventure park, brings to life the animated world of "Despicable Me," with both an indoor ride and an outdoor playground, both featuring detailed settings from the films.
Chris Meledandri, the producer behind the "Despicable Me' franchise who showed Universal how to make big animated films with more modest budgets, said he wanted the ride to be "true to the movies themselves."
"It was very important for us to have tremendous animation and the same kind of wit and irreverence," said Meledandri, who makes the films through his company Illumination Entertainment.
"Despicable Me," released in 2010, is the story of evil mastermind Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, who adopts orphaned sisters Margot, Edith and Agnes as part of his scheme to steal the moon and become the world's most evil villain.
The film, made for $69 million, became a box office hit for Universal Pictures in 2010, earning $543 million worldwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
"Despicable Me 2," in which Gru gave up evil schemes to become a devoted dad, was made for $76 million and performed even better in 2013 with $970 million at the worldwide box office.
The surprise stars of the first film were Gru's mischievous band of Minions, diminutive creatures who speak "Minionese," a fictional language with words like "papoi" for toy. Meledandri said he was approached by NBC Universal's chief executive, Steve Burke, after the first film to bring some of the Minions' box office magic to a live attraction.
The attendance for Comcast Corp's Universal Studios Hollywood trails far behind that of Walt Disney Co's Disneyland in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, bringing in 5.9 million visitors in 2012, compared with nearly 16 million at Disneyland, according to a report from the Themed Entertainment Association.
But Universal Studios is now banking on the recent box office success of its "Despicable Me" and "Fast & Furious" franchises to entice visitors with new rides over a five-year expansion and revamp plan for its Los Angeles park, located a few minutes away from Hollywood.
In 2015, the theme park will expand "The Simpsons" ride into a Springfield land from the hit animated Fox television show, while the "Fast & Furious Supercharge" ride will bring the car-racing film franchise to life.
"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" will open in 2016, based on author J.K. Rowling's magical world, which became a film franchise that made more than $7 billion worldwide.
MINIONS TAKE OVER
On the "Minion Mayhem" ride, visitors will plunge into a storyline where Gru and the Minions are looking for new recruits, and are hoping to turn humans into Minions. Meanwhile, Margot, Edith and Agnes are trying to give Gru a present to mark the one-year anniversary of him adopting them.
The ride's project designer and show producer, Jon Corfino, said that rather than creating a rollercoaster, "a simulation is a complete suspension of disbelief; you're completely immersed in the sensations as you're in Gru's lab."
Outside of the ride, the "Despicable Me" attraction includes the Super Silly Fun Land playground, based on the boardwalk pier where Gru finally falls in love with the three girls he adopted.
Fans can also play the same space shooters game that Gru plays to win Agnes her pink unicorn, in a scene that spawned the catchphrase "it's SO fluffy."
The Minions will return in their own feature-length spin-off "The Minions" next year, and in 2017's "Despicable Me 3."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Ken Wills)