With Jeffrey Katzenberg eventually stepping into a new role as chairman of DreamWorks Animation New Media, Chris Meledandri, who started Illumination Entertainment nine years ago, is officially and unequivocally the town’s animation czar. With the Minions and Despicable Me franchise successes alone, you could argue he already was. But after the announcement this morning of Comcast NBCUniversal’s agreement to acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion in cash, all eyes have now turned to Meledandri.
Meledandri’s Illumination’s currently is gearing up with Paris-based Illumination Mac Guff for several new films –The Secret Life Of Pets, Despicable Me 3, Sing and Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas with its distribution and financing deal via Universal.
Meledandri is well-steeped in animation. While Katzenberg and his team at DWA were pumping out Shreks and its spinoffs, Meledandri was helping Fox establish its animation presence by leading the way in the acquisition of Blue Sky Studios. During his stint as an executive there, he oversaw such breakout hits as Ice Age and Alvin And The Chipmunks, two films that have become long successful ongoing franchises for the studio.
The New York-born, soft-spoken Meledandri is considered every bit as visionary as Katzenberg, but he gave props to the DWA and former Disney executive this morning: “There are few people in the history of our industry who have made a bigger impact than Jeffrey Katzenberg,” he said 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.”
Meledandri emerged onto the scene in a big way when he exec produced a little movie called Cool Runnings that came out of nowhere and became profitable. Dawn Steel produced the film. From there, he ended up over at Fox (courtesy of Bill Mechanic) and was in charge of Fox’s ill-fated animated studio in Phoenix. He and Don Bluth ended up churning out two films for Fox — Anastasia and Titan A.E. Neither were shining moments in animation. However, once Blue Sky was acquired, Melendandri found his stride and he took Fox along with him for the ride.
In 2007, he and his assistant Kelly Martin started Illumination Entertainment and once the company partnered with Paris-based animation company Mac Guff, the rest was history.
Together, they have created Minions ($1.15B worldwide gross), Despicable Me ($543.1M worldwide), Despicable Me 2 ($970M worldwide) and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax ($348.8M worldwide). Hop grossed $183.9M worldwide.