Is Minions really based on a true story about tortured children?

A TikTok by @truestory page claims that the Minions franchise story and characters are based on disturbing true events from 1903. The TikTok includes an old photo of people looking a lot like the popular characters. Is this really a true story? Let’s fact-check.

“’Minions’ was actually based on a true story in 1903. Children went missing in a small town and they were used in some sort of experiment,” the TikTok claims. “When they were found, some of them were deformed and they couldn’t speak properly. The terrifying thing is that the sinister man was never found.”

Another story on Twitter links the Minions inspiration to cruel Nazi experiments.

These stories catch on so easily online because of the striking visual similarities between this vintage image and the “Minions” characters. It’s a testament to how easy it is to believe what we see and make snap judgments based on surface information.

These stories about tortured children that usually accompany this image are false. In reality, the people in this photo are adults in submarine escape suits.

The suit, called Hall and Rees escape apparatus, was designed in the early 1900s to help people escape a submarine if it failed and started sinking. The suits included a canister containing the chemical “Oxylithe” which absorbed carbon dioxide and gave off oxygen. They were extremely bulky and there are safety concerns about whether or not they could actually help the wearers escape. They also took up a lot of room in a submarine. They were pretty quickly abandoned. Submarine escape suits now are made of a material that’s easier to store and can also function as a raft once the wearer reaches the surface.

Human experimentation is real

Even though the photo and stories circulating about the inspiration of the minions isn’t true, human experimentation and torture is, sadly, real. There were a number of cruel medical experiments in Nazi Germany, and from 1932 to 1972 the U.S. engaged in a barbaric health experiment on black men called the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

What are minions really based on?

Minions are symbolic of the human slaves throughout history who have worked to serve the needs of powerful and evil leaders. Minions don’t have the full complexity of humanity but they do represent an uncomfortable aspect of human history and the human condition.

Even when given all the comforts of life, Minions grow bored and depressed without having a master to serve. A desire for obedience drives them, and without someone to be obedient to, they feel they don’t have a purpose.

This is tapped into the human drive to have a leader to look up to and emulate. Humans need role models to help form their own identity, and a goal-oriented life in order to find meaning and a sense of accomplishment. Often, when life becomes too comfortable for us, we lose our sense of purpose and become despondent, unmotivated, and self-destructive.

Photo credits: Universal Pictures / Royal Navy Submarine Museum

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