Those learning Indonesia's national language, Bahasa Indonesia, may be surprised by their ability to understand parts of the mainly nonsensical dialogue spoken in the new kids' film Minions, which was released in Australia and Indonesia last week. In the spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise, the diminutive yellow underlings of the reformed supervillain Gru speak a language all of their own, called 'Minionese', which is littered with borrowed words from English, Spanish, French, Japanese — and Bahasa Indonesia.
As it turns out, there's an Indonesian connection for the creator, voice actor and director behind Minions. Pierre Coffin, whose full name is Pierre-Louis Padang Coffin, is the son of a French diplomat and the well-known Indonesian novelist NH Dini. His middle name is an Indonesian word meaning 'field', and forms part of the title of one of his mother's books: Padang Ilalang di Belakang Rumah, or 'The Grassy Field Behind the House'. It's also the name of the capital of West Sumatra, though it's unclear whether there's a connection there since his mother was born in Central Java and claims Javanese and Bugis lineage.
Coffin has said in interviews that he is not fluent enough in Bahasa Indonesia to read any of his mother's books, but he thinks the language is very beautiful. A handful of Indonesian words have made it into the movie, most notably when one of the minions addresses the Queen of England with an unmistakable terima kasih ('thank you').
Like Australians, Indonesians are eager to claim their links to Hollywood fame. News of Coffin's Indonesian parentage has made him the new poster boy for the country's creative potential. Even before the news came out, Indonesia was already deep in Minions fever, with the sidekicks' goggled faces appearing on everything from children's clothing to motorcycle helmets. The above clip shows a fan-made video of the minions welcoming the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Bahasa Indonesia.
Australians and Indonesians are the first to see Minions in cinemas before it rolls out in 40 more foreign markets and finally reaches the US in mid-July. With heavy promotion that included sending costumed minions out onto Jakarta's busiest commuter train line, the film has already become Indonesia's biggest animated movie debut. As for Australian movie-goers, I wonder if the Indonesian connection can help warm up our cooling feelings for our neighbours and their national language?