Illumination Entertainment had a sizable presence at this year’s Annecy Film Festival. Its upcoming film Minions received an early showing, while Chris Meledandri (Founder and CEO of Illumination Entertainment) was there to conduct a keynote speech/Q&A about his company, his values, and where he thinks the future of the animation industry will go (all before he became the first recipient of Variety and MIFA’s Animation Personality of the Year award). Hidden within that Q&A were a few chunks of information concerning a couple future films to come from Illumination. So, let’s look at these first.
As you may well know, one of Illumination’s 2016 features will be a musical. It will be directed by Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow). The last time we reported on this film, Matthew McConaughey was cast as the lead character. Now, we know exactly who he’s playing and what the film will be about (straight from Meledandri himself).
The film will be set in a world that is “entirely inhabited by animals who have jobs and drive cars.” Does this sound familiar? We’ll touch on its similarities to other films later.
McConaughey will provide the voice of a koala named Buster. He’s a showman entrepreneur who runs a theater that’s in danger of going out of business. In order to prevent this from happening, Buster decides to hold a local singing competition. As such, the movie will be about “the story of the lives of the five characters vying to win the competition.” The movie will feature parts of 85 “known” songs in its musical component. Also, John C. Reilly will voice Buster’s friend (a black sheep).
“The starting point for the movie came from looking at what the role of the producer is. Buster creates wonderful entertainment out of nothing. The producers I admire the most, because it’s the opposite of me, are people like Janet Healey (Illumination’s production head), who have incredible optimism. Their positive force of energy makes things happen,” Meledandri explained.
Aside from the musical aspect of the film, we have yet another talking animal movie that will come out in 2016. And one that has a setting that is extraordinarily similar to Disney’s Zootopia. A point worth mentioning is that this commnet has also been made about The Secret Life of Pets and its similarities to Toy Story. I guess we’ll have to wait to see just how similar (or how different) this film will be compared to others (the movie comes out December 21, 2016).
Meledandri also spoke briefly about another project at Illumination: the adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He didn’t say much about the project, but he did elaborate on how the project will stay true to the core of the author’s original work.
“Grinch goes back to what Ted Geisel’s original intention was,” Meledandri told Variety‘s Peter Debruge, who conducted the Annecy Q&A. He continued, “Even though it is sometimes perceived as very American, the essence of what was driving Ted Geisel’s work is very universal.”
This will be the second Dr. Seuss-based project at Illumination following The Lorax (and the third for Meledandri following Horton Hears a Who at Blue Sky).
Switching gears, Meledandri spoke his mind about a number of subjects, all while giving advice based on his experiences at 20th Century Fox Animation (where he helped build Blue Sky Studios) and his current work at Illumination.
I won’t give you everything (that would take up another article), but he did make some points about not trying to replicate what worked for other companies, using failure as a spark to future success, and the growing acceptance and need for international talent in the animation industry. He also talked about the benefits of short-form animation, as it led him to discover directors like Chris Wedge and Chris Renaud.
When asked about the future of animation, Meledandri admitted that he has no clear idea of what the future might bring. “We are in a period when distribution, technology, market place, are changing at light speed and consequently our prognostication abilities are flawed at best,” he said. Meledandri continued by saying, “It’s a dynamic time but it’s also a crowded time with an infinite amount of content fighting for audiences attention.”
The keynote/Q&A ended with a quizzical piece of advice to the students in the audience: “Embrace risk. The driving force behind our economic model at Illumination Mac Guff is designed to preserve the opportunity to take risk. Subvert the expectation of the audience. Surprise them with unexpected choices.”
I haven’t been shy about criticizing Illumination’s glaring lack of effort with its storytelling. Meledandri’s end quote is strange, as it comes from the CEO of a company that’s known for taking the least amount of risk with its work. But, there is no denying that Meledandri’s drive and expertise made Illumination into what it is today.
Watch the entire keynote below:
What do you think? Do you have any thoughts on what we now know from this article concerning Illumination’s future projects?
Brandon is your average nerd with a love for nerdy things (games, comics, anime/manga, etc.). He also loves reading and writing and plans to be an author someday. For now, he writes with passion and curiosity about the world of animation. He lives with his family in North Carolina and is currently attending college.