The city of San Francisco has played a starring role in countless movies, from Vertigo to Escape from Alcatraz to Mrs. Doubtfire. This summer has a new contender—Minions: The Rise of Gru—even if its version of the City by the Bay is animated and takes a few minor liberties along the way.
In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, the film’s director, Kyle Balda, shared why his onetime hometown made sense as the setting for this freewheeling installment of the Despicable Me series, which has also inspired legions of “Gentleminion” fans.
Balda first visited San Francisco as a teenager and “had never felt the presence of a city as strongly,” he says, “just the humming and the vibration of it. It was something that I carried with me for so long.”
Some of the city’s top attractions figure prominently in the story, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown to the Painted Ladies. Minions Kevin, Stuart, and Bob ride cable cars and take kung fu lessons from an acupuncturist they meet in Chinatown, then join Gru to do battle against a team of super villains in the midst of the annual Chinese New Year Parade. “There’s a bit at Fisherman’s Wharf during the [kung fu] training montage,” Balda tells the Chronicle, “and there’s a little bit of Muir Woods in that as well.” For the parade scene, he says, the film crew used real audio from a recent Chinese New Year Parade for ambient noise.
He does admit, however, that the film takes occasional liberties. When Minion Otto takes an Easy Rider–style road trip from Death Valley to San Francisco, he appears to pass through Big Sur, but from the north. “That is a mistake geographically,” Balda told the Chronicle. “The reason was more cinematic.”
Likewise, in the desert, movie fans won’t have much luck finding the World’s Largest Banana, visited in the movie by Kevin, Stuart, and Bob. You can, however, see the World’s Largest Banana Display—comprised of a whopping 25,000 banana-oriented items—at the International Banana Museum, located between Greater Palm Springs and the Salton Sea. Or, visit the World’s Tallest Thermometer, standing 134 feet high in Baker, not far from the Mojave National Preserve.
For guaranteed Minion sightings, head to Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, home of the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride, and the games and rides of Super Silly Fun Land, all based on the original Despicable Me movie. This summer, check out the special Rise of Gru attraction in the Universal Plaza, including special Minion meet-and-greets through July 17, as well as a 16-foot Minion squishy and Minion-themed games through August 14. The Rise of Gru isn’t the only current blockbuster getting special treatment at this park this summer, either. Starting July 22, the park’s World-Famous Studio Tour will debut the actual creepy-theme-park set from Jordan Peele’s new horror movie Nope.