Illumination Entertainment founder Chris Meledandri praised DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg on Thursday as one of the animation industry’s most influential leaders. His comments came after Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which backs Illumination, announced it has reached a deal to acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion in cash.
“There are few people in the history of our industry who have made a bigger impact than Jeffrey Katzenberg,” said Meledandri in a statement. “His leadership at Disney drove the modern animation renaissance. In creating DreamWorks Animation, he joined Pixar in setting the stage for everything that has followed to this day. There is no better testament to Jeffrey’s vision than the films DreamWorks Animation has produced and the rich talent that populates the company today.”
Illumination has become one of the biggest profit centers for Comcast’s film arm, Universal. Its “Despicable Me” and “Minions” films are among the most financially successful in the studio’s history. This year, brings two original Illumination offerings, “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Sing.”
If the sale closes, DreamWorks Animation CEO Katzenberg will become chairman of DreamWorks Animation New Media, comprising its ownership stakes in AwesomenessTV and Nova, which will be part of NBCUniversal and housed under the film group headed by chairman Jeff Shell. Katzenberg will also serve as a consultant to NBCUniversal. Meledandri is expected to be a major force in guiding the combined animation efforts, although his role has yet to be determined.
The deal values DreamWorks Animation at $41 a share, a rich premium over the company’s recent trading levels. The total equity value of the deal, including debt, is $4.1 billion. Shares in the smaller company surged nearly 25% in earlier trading after the announcement was made.
Before striking out on his own to form DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in 1994, Katzenberg helped revitalize Disney’s flailing animation division. Under his leadership, the studio recaptured its creative stride, releasing the likes of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” At DreamWorks, Katzenberg developed animated hits such as “Shrek,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda.” The company did stumble in recent years, however, weighed down by box office flops, such as “Turbo” and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.”
The deal for DreamWorks Animation is subject to regulatory approval.