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Inspired by the summer smash 'Despicable Me 2,' Joe Wos, a cartoon historian and executive director of the ToonSeum, explores the side-splitting role of minions in animated films.

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Where would the world's villains be without their minions -- their sidekicks, grunts, goons and lovable henchmen? Minions provide inept servitude. They counter their bosses' evil with moments of levity and comic relief. Often, but not always, they are the weak link in a villain's otherwise-perfect plan. Their inability to carry out orders often aids a hero's triumphant return. Minions are clumsy and prone to laughter. When you're a villain, good help is hard to find. Here is my Top-10 list of animated minions:

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10. Minion

"Megamind" (2010)

More of a sidekick than a minion, his name alone gets him on our list. Best friend of the villainous Megamind since childhood, he does his best to do bad at his master's behest.

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9. The Deck of Cards

"Alice in Wonderland" (1951)

The Queen of Hearts may need to do some major shuffling of her minions. This deck of dimwits lives in constant fear of the Red Queen losing her head, resulting in one or more of them losing theirs. They are tasked with painting the white roses red, capturing Alice and maintaining order. This deck was stacked against itself from the start. The queen probably should have known that failure was in the cards. Ultimately, her plans tumbled like a house of ... well, you get the point.

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8. Smee and the Pirates

"Peter Pan" (1953)

Mr. Smee is Captain Hook's left-hand man. He keeps the Captain safe from his own crew of dagger-tossing minions and a hungry crocodile. He is a lovable, loyal lackey. Clumsy and oafish, he is regarded as the first Disney villain's sidekick to have a substantial role in the plot of a film.

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7. Blue Meanies

"Yellow Submarine" (1968)

The Blue Meanies have descended on Pepperland under the guidance of the Chief Blue Meanie, who is driven by his hatred of music. This mixed bag of minions includes apple-dropping giants, snapping-turtle Turks and blue goons who wear mouse ears reminiscent of a certain cartoon icon. The Meanies are encouraged to be as unpleasant as possible. The main minion Max suffers the brunt of the Chief Blue Meanie's temper. Max follows the master Meanie around with a stool so he can sit at any time, and he's constantly answering "yes" when every Meanie knows that "no" is the only accurate response. He is abused, reprimanded and belittled until the Chief Blue Meanie is blue in the face. Which doesn't take much, of course.

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6. Pain and Panic

"Hercules" (1997)

Pain and Panic are incompetent, disloyal, laughable, shape-shifting, soulless, pathetic creatures. What's not to love? Given the simple task of killing the infant son of a god, they fail and assume that their master, Hades, will never find out. Of course, he does find out. In the end, their master is thrown into the River Styx. It is then that they realize he will be really ticked off when he gets out. If he gets out, that is. As Panic says, "If is good."

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5. Lock, Shock and Barrel

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)

Oogie Boogie's Boys (and Girl) kidnap Santa Claus! How bad can you get? Of course, their first attempt nabs them the Easter Bunny before they capture the Jolly Old Elf and deposit him in Oogie Boogie's lair. Lock, Shock and Barrel are nasty, mean, conniving and cute, a deadly combination if ever there was one! They are a reminder that trouble comes in all sizes and, frankly, you should never trust children.

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4. Flotsam and Jetsam

"The Little Mermaid" (1989)

Unique to the world of villains, these two moray eels are the beloved "darlings" of Ursula the Sea Witch. The two eels are inseparable. They look alike, they talk alike ... what an evil pair! Unlike most minions, they are efficient and effective. They excel at every task they are assigned: Lure Ariel to the witch's lair, check. Stop the prince from kissing the damsel, check. Hold the hero down and attempt to drown him, check. They are the perfect minions all the way up to the moment Ursula accidentally zaps them to death, at which point she flies into an angry rage over the loss of her "poopsies."

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3. Smarty, Greasy, Wheezy, Psycho and Stupid

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988)

The Toon Patrol, minions to Judge Doom, is the law in Toon Town. They enforce the law with sadistic glee and slightly less-sadistic laughter. Sick, twisted, maniacal and armed with switchblades and guns, they are the baddest of all cartoon minions. How bad are they? "Smarty" is the only Disney character whose actual full name is unprintable in the newspaper! They would be great villains in their own right if they weren't so prone to laughter. Their amusement at the irresistible musical toon classic "Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" proves their downfall, ironically sending these evil minions off to the Toon afterlife!

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2. Shenzi, Banzai and Ed

"The Lion King" (1994)

Shenzi, Banzai and Ed are a trio of cackling hyenas who serve one of the all-time great animated villains, Scar. Unlike many other minions, their failures are not due to incompetence, but rather a result of being outmatched in strength by the heroes they go up against. However, like most great minions, they help the villain with his objective: usurping the throne by killing Mufasa. They are sadistic, cruel and violent and not bad backup singers in Scar's big musical number! They also enjoy taunting their meals with bad puns, proving that hyena puns are the lowest form of humor. In a rare twist of vengeance, these minions turn on their master after he attempts to blame them for the coup. They fiercely tear him apart as flames surround them all. Good, clean family fun and comic relief!

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1. The Minions

"Despicable Me" (2010) and "Despicable Me 2" (2013)

They have taken the comic role of minions to new heights (and depths). Gru's adorable minions are the highlight of the film series and in 2014 will become the first minions to star in their own feature film. They are blindly loyal, brilliantly incompetent and hilariously violent. They have a complete disregard for safety and a love of bananas. Could there be more perfect minions? The lovable little yellow pill-shaped sidekicks are the Three Stooges of animated films. They speak in incomprehensible gibberish, employ slapstick humor and mangle popular songs. Their maniacal laughter alone is reason enough to make them the top pick for our list.

Love the list? Hate it? Who would you pick? We want to know! Tag a tweet with #toonseum to send us your picks! Or "like" us on Facebook to add your comments.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks Animation, King Features Syndicate and United Media.

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The ToonSeum, Downtown, is Pittsburgh's Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. As executive director, Joe Wos ( has a legion of loyal volunteer minions.


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