Actor takes on 3-D CG-animated film

Illumination Entertainment topper Chris Meledandri has kicked off his Universal Pictures-based family film unit with “Despicable Me,” a 3-D CG-animated film that has Steve Carell voicing the title character.

Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Russell Brand, Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”), Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) and Julie Andrews are providing the other lead voices. The film will be released in 2010.

Carell’s title character is a deplorable man known as Groo who masterminds the mother of all heists when he plots to steal the moon. Egged on by an evil mother (Andrews), Groo finds one obstacle in his way: a trio of orphan girls who temporarily come under his care and won’t leave.

The pic reteams Carell, who provided one of the voices for “Horton Hears a Who,” with Meledandri, who made that toon feature as head of Fox Animation, and with “Horton” scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.

Paul and Daurio wrote “Despicable Me,” which Meledandri will produce with Janet Healy and John Cohen. Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin are directing from an idea hatched by co-director Sergio Pablos.

Meledandri said the spirit of the film came partly from taking his sons to see family films and discovering they always most loved the villains.

“Despicable Me” will be fully financed by Universal.

When Meledandri formed Illumination in late 2007 with U toppers Marc Shmuger and David Linde, the studio was going to half-finance the films and find a partner for the remaining coin. While Meledandri remains on track to generate two live-action or animated family films each year beginning in 2010, Universal will be the sole financier, at least initially.

“At such a point in time when financial markets pass through the acute phase they’re in now, we will revisit the idea of bringing in partnership funding,” Meledandri told Daily Variety.

Meledandri has another other film percolating with scribes Paul and Daurio and projects with the “Son of Rambow” team of Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith as well as “The Simpsons” vet writer-producers Josh Lieb, Mike Reiss and Matt Selman.

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