At the heart of every project from Illumination, which counts the highest-grossing global animated film franchise in its “Despicable Me” series among its roster, are what Academy Award-nominated founder and CEO Chris Meledandri describes as “characters and stories that live on in our audience’s lives long after they leave the theater.”To achieve that sort of lasting impression, Meledandri, who will be inducted into the Variety Home Entertainment & Digital Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, has brought together world-class creative...
One of the world’s most successful animation execs began his career in live action, working with producer Dawn Steel on such films as “Cool Runnings” and “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” for Disney. Then he jumped to 20th Century Fox Animation, where box office disappointments “Anastasia” and “Titan A.E.” nearly ended his toon career.
Instead, they taught him a valuable lesson, making for a very successful transition into computer-generated animation, in partnership with Blue Sky Studios (acquired by Fox in 1997). Meledandri oversaw the “Ice Age” franchise, which has gone on to earn $3.2 billion at the global box office, and forged a partnership with Theodor Geisel’s widow that led to hit Dr. Seuss adaptations at Fox (“Horton Hears a Who!”), as well as laid the groundwork for the exec’s next venture.
After turning Fox’s toon division into something of a hit factory, Meledandri left the company to start Illumination Entertainment, partnering with Universal and Paris-based Mac Guff to make “Despicable Me.” Not only did he take an active role in creating these new projects (both “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Sing” were based on his original concepts), but as founder and CEO of the company, he now had a personal stake in them.
Much of the success of Meledandri’s business model owes to keeping budgets down (far lower than those of rivals DreamWorks and Pixar) and savvy cross-promotional marketing with parent company NBCUniversal. In addition to being a merchandising bonanza, Illumination’s films now have a prominent place in Universal Studios theme parks as well.
Up next for Illumination: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and set for a November 2018 release; “The Secret Life of Pets 2” in July 2019; “Minions 2” in July 2020; and “Sing 2” in December 2020.