ANNECY, France – Matthew McConaughey will voice Buster, a showman entrepreneur koala running a legit theater in Illumination Entertainment’s upcoming music-driven event comedy, Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri revealed Wednesday at an Annecy Fest.
Written-directed by Garth Jennings (“Son of Rambow”), the movie is set for release Dec. 21, 2016. The story follows Buster’s problem with his theater, which is empty. To save it, Buster comes up with the idea of a local singing competition.
Buster’s best friend, a black sheep, is voiced by John Riley.
The movie posits a world entirely inhabited by animals who have jobs and drive cars, Meledandri added.
“The movie ends up becoming the story of the lives of the five characters vying to win the competition,” adding the movie has “parts of about 85 songs,” all known. “But it doesn’t become a story about winning the competition but about character, and that’s ultimately because any of our films have the potential to be successful because they’re about character,” Meledandri said at an Annecy Fest keynote/Q&A, before receiving the first Mifa/Variety Animation Personality of the Year Award, presented by Peter Debruge, Variety’s chief international film critic, and Mickael Marin, head of Annecy’s Mifa market.
“The starting point for the movie came from looking at what the role of the producer is. Buster creates wonderful entertainment out of nothing. The producers I admire the most, because it’s the opposite of me, are people like Janet [Healey, Illumination’s production head], who have incredible optimism. Their positive force of energy makes things happen,” Meledandri explained.
Beyond “Minions,” which world premieres tomorrow Thursday at Annecy, Illumination has three other pics in the pipeline: “Despicable Me 3,” “Doctor Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”
“Grinch” “goes back to what Ted Geisel’s original intention was,” Meledandri told Debruge, who conducted the Annecy Q&A.
“Even though it is sometimes perceived as very American, the essence of what was driving Ted Geisel’s work is very universal,” Meledandri argued. “Grinch’s “release date will be holiday 2017,” Meledandri said.
Voiced by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”) and Kevin Hart (“Ride Along”), “The Secret Life of Pets” will be helmed by “Despicable Me” co-director Chris Renaud.
Meledandri also revealed that Illumination was tracking the evolution of China’s CG animation industry, though it is “very, very young.” “We’re following the progress of a couple of studios very closely, and there is the possibility that at some point we might do something with one of those two studios in a limited way or, who knows, it could be more extensive.”
Asked to talk about the future of animation, Meledandri claimed – with a self irony which would be a ingratiating leitmotif of his keynote – that he had no idea what the future might bring. “We are in a period when distribution, technology, market place, are changing at light speed and consequently our prognostication abilities are flawed at best.”
Instead, he delivered insights from his own experience to a largely student audience, though he cautioned them not to listen too much to him.
“My early experiences in animation taught me that following someone else is not a great idea,” Meledandri said, citing the case of his first film when head of animation at Fox, 200o’s “Titan A & E,” which bombed.
“The movie was simply not good enough, but perhaps more importantly our entire animation business on Fox had been built on trying to replicate Disney’s success.”
In contrast, the success of “Ice Age,” the feature debut of Chris Wedge, “gave me confidence in choosing directors for future projects based on their short form work,” Meledandri argued, screening Chris Renaud’s “No Time For Nuts” and an excerpt from a short by Pierre Coffin.
“A confluence of events like the proliferation of the use of CG animation software, the universal access to distribution and the first generation raised primarily on digital imagery becoming adults have lead us to this creative time where we’ve seen an eruption of creative talent in our media all over the world.
“It’s a dynamic time but it’s also a crowded time with an infinite amount of content fighting for audiences attention.”
Meledandri’s advice to his audience: “Embrace risk. The driving force behind our economic model at Illumination Mac Guff is designed to preserve the opportunity to take risk. Subvert the expectation of the audience. Surprise them with unexpected choices.”