Prior to Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley being lauded at tonight’s Pioneer of the Year Dinner, the studio held its CinemaCon splash for industryites with a heavy spotlight on their Illumination Entertainment unit. The big news centered around The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Mike Fleming reported that Benedict Cumberbatch had landed the title role. In addition, South Park‘s Trey Parker has signed on to play Gru’s villain in Despicable Me 3, Balthazar Brat, a has been ’80s kid pop star turned bad. In addition, Gru will get a new, fastidious wavy-haired blonde doppelganger, Dru, who will also be voiced by Steve Carell. Despicable Me 3 comes out on June 30, 2017.
Each studio has their specialty in their CinemaCon presentations i.e. Warner Bros. with star appearances, Disney in showing Finding Dory and Captain America: Civil War. Uni has trotted out mostly filmmakers like Jason Bourne producer Frank Marshall, Girl on the Train director Tate Taylor, Warcraft helmer Duncan Jones and Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri.
But the one star Uni strutted out was introduced Michael “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” Buffer, and that was their Ride Along B.O. king Kevin Hart who took stage with Vegas showgirls in tow. Like most of these studio sessions, the emphasis was on the 2016 slate, with touches of what’s yet to come.
Universal president of domestic distribution Nick Carpou started the event. Uni has the most to crow about at CinemaCon after hitting industry records last year with $6.89B at the domestic B.O. and $4.4B overseas. “Together we are giant,” Carpou told exhibs in the audience. He then introduced Langley “as your true host today”. The execs on stage agree 2015 will be a hard act to follow. Unlike other studios who have recycled trailers already online in their presentations, Uni showed us clips that have never been seen before.
Legendary’s ambitious Warcraft movie was the first footage projected. Uni and pic’s producers hope the videogame’s faithful show up for this big screen adaptation. Taylor spoke about The Girl on the Train, Uni’s first DreamWorks release in a while. “Every so often there is that book, that everyone reads on the train, in their tub…finally I decided to read this title and couldn’t put it down. From the first page, it grips you. When a book stays on NY Times book list for a year, and gets talked about with passion you know it’s worthy,” said the director. The trailer has all the touchstones of an autumn thriller hit ala Gone Girl: earth tones, great acting in Emily Blunt and New York City backdrops. It hits theaters on Oct. 7
Said Marshall about Jason Bourne: “Reason why we haven’t had a movie in a few years, is because we wanted to get the story right…it’s a great new story that’s contemporary with a fresh new take, a mixture of the old and the new.” He’s guaranteed “the best Bourne chase ever”. Uni showed off a kinetic, action-paced trailer laced with Bourne adversary Tommy Lee Jones — it makes Spectre look like a movie one goes to sleep to.
Hart took the mic with stand-up heft, in a way that he hasn’t yet at CinemaCon “I just get up here and start cussin!… What I’m about to show you is groundbreaking…” said Hart, “I’m going to introduce to you What Now? My last tour because I don’t know if I’m going to go out and do it again.” Before showing stand-up clips, the sequence was preceded by a Bond parody, Hart-style with Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. Hart wrestles with a Russian gangster who looks a lot like Viggo Mortensen.
There were a number of Illumination goods that Meledandri had to show off. First up, the new 10 minute short More Minions that will precede July 8’s The Secret Life of Pets. Meledandri said that by the film opening three weeks after Finding Dory, it will have the added benefit of trailoring on the Pixar pic. It’s a similar tactic that Uni employed last year with Minions following in the wake of Pixar’s Inside Out. He also showed the first 10 minutes of the animated musical Sing. It begins with beautiful black and white fully-drawn stills. Matthew McConaughey plays a Koala bear, Buster Moon, who is making a living by the seat of his pants as live theater operator. He holds a singing contest and draws a huge line down the street. However, Moon doesn’t realize that his googly-eyed lizard secretary listed the price at $100K. But Moon isn’t the only story here. There’s a hysterical bit with the animals auditioning with pop hits, i.e. a female pig crooining Katy Perry’s “Firework” and a gorilla with a silky smooth voice much like Sam Smith’s (. Like Zootopia animals are the stars, but they sing their hearts. There’s a gorilla with a voice as smooth as Sam Smith’s.