It was a shock when NBC Universal announced the management team for its newly acquired DreamWorks Animation a few weeks ago, and Chris Meledandri, founder and chief of the parent company’s Illumination Entertainment unit, was nowhere to be found. Meledandri had been widely expected to take a role over both Illumination and DreamWorks.
But at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, Meledandri’s logic in sticking with Illumination for the moment suddenly became clear: He and his studio have a big, rollicking, star-filled labor of love on their hands in Sing, an animated song-fest that just had its world premiere at the festival. This is Meledandri’s baby. The film was directed by Garth Jennings, who was known for the idiosyncratic indie comedy Son of Rambow. But Meledandri, who has a big Chris Meledandri Production credit on Sing, thought it up, and is determined to see it through, starting with a debut that may have delivered the year’s biggest battery of celebrity-power to Toronto.
Among those who took the stage on Sunday were Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly and Taron Egerton, all of whom voice parts in the film. Kelly and Jennifer Hudson performed after the screening. Jennings introduced the movie, but mostly he introduced Meledandri. “Five years ago, he had this momentous idea, and he wanted me to collaborate on it,” Jennings said.
In truth, the idea itself is absurdly simple. Animated animals, led by a failing impresario koala voiced by McConaughey, decide to save a failing theater by putting on a show. It’s a plot as old as Ruby Keeler. But it delivers with an energy, intricacy, and nonstop attention to detail that can only have come from the kind of creative executive who falls in love with a project, and would rather ride it all the way to its release on Dec. 21 than trust it to the fates while turning to a new challenge like DreamWorks.
Up in the balcony at the Princess of Wales theater, it all began to make sense. By the end of the film, viewers in the audience—grown-ups and children alike—were applauding the furry, computer-animated performers as if they were real. They had forgotten they were watching a movie about a show. It really was a show, a good one—and Meledandri was right not to let go.