Following the success of the Despicable Me movies, Universal Pictures’ newest blockbuster features the franchise’s cutest characters: Minions. Their yellow, pill-shaped bodies clad in goggles and overalls are found everywhere lately due to the new movie’s release, including McDonald’s Happy Meals. However, parents aren’t so happy about the meal’s new toy – or at least what the toy allegedly says.
The toy in question is capable of saying three phrases. It plays one each time it is hit onto a hard surface. Jennifer O’Neill from Yahoo! Parenting writes that parents claim the toy swears in one of the phrases.
A father has uploaded a demonstration of the toy spouting phrases. Upon tapping the toy against the table, it begins to spout out gibberish. The last phrase, although unclear, does sound somewhat like it’s saying “what the F—“, according to Alex McCown from A.V. Club.
A McDonald’s spokeswoman assures parents that this isn’t possible because the toys do not even speak English — they speak “Minionese”, a fictional language made up of nonsense words and sounds. The company asserts that any perceived similarities between the sounds the toy makes and English words are purely coincidental.
Pierre Coffin, co-creator of Minionese and director of the Despicable Me movies, has weighed in on the situation, writes Max Plenke for Mic. He says that the sound quality is so poor from the toys that they could be saying anything.
“I’m not saying what people with a twisted mind seem to be hearing,” Coffin told Mic via email. “If it was my intent to say inappropriate stuff, you’d hear it, I promise you. But I’d be pretty stupid doing it in a movie for all audiences including kids. I don’t think myself as being very intelligent, but I’m certainly not that dumb.”
Even if a foul-mouthed toy was made unintentionally, parents are still worried that children will pick up the phrase from their Happy Meal treat. Timothy Jay, a psychologist and author of When Your Kids Talk Dirty, assures parents this won’t happen unless they draw attention to it.
“Kids aren’t going to recognize that ‘word’ as swearing, per se, unless you draw their attention to it,” explains Jay. “You’re not born with knowledge of what swears are. It’s only when parents reprimand kids for swearing that you’ve taught them that swears are bad words.”
In research conducted by Jay and his co-author Kristin Janschewitz, they find that children begin swearing as early as age 2, and it develops to sound adult-like by age 11. Jay says this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s most important for parents not to react. Instead, if your child drops the f-bomb, you should ask why they said it and get to the root of the emotion behind it instead of simply disciplining them.
“If you just punish the language, you’re missing the underlying language that’s causing it. That’s the thing to figure out.”