Chris Meledandri had previously helped Fox become a major player in feature animation when he led their acquisition of Blue Sky Studios, overseeing the creative and business operations of the company and their films, which included Ice Age, Robots, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Simpsons Movie and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!
He started his own animation company in 2007, and in 2008 went into a deal with Universal to become that studio’s family entertainment arm.
The first film to come out of this deal, Despicable Me (2010), was everything Universal could have hoped. It was a massive hit with audiences and the minions, who started out as comical side characters, stole the movie and became so popular that they have become the animation studio’s official mascots.
Illumination continued to have success with these characters in Despicable Me 2 (2013), an Oscar-nominated sequel which became the most profitable film in the history of Universal, and the spin-off film Minions (2015) which has grossed over $1 billion worldwide and further proves that the success of Despicable Me was due mainly to these yellow pill-shaped monsters who have taken over the world (literally).
In 2011, following the success of Despicable Me, Illumination bought the French animation company hired to help animate the film, Mac Guff, which has since been renamed Illumination Mac Guff and has had a hand in all of Illumination’s next films, which included Hop (2011), The Lorax (2012), The Secret Life of Pets (2016) and Sing (2016), all of which were successful.
Upcoming films include Despicable Me 3 (2017), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2018), The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019), Minions 2 (2020), Sing 2 (2020) and adaptations of the books Flanimals, The Cat in the Hat and Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase.
Illumination continues to dominate the box office for their crowdpleasing family entertainment and they have an above-average track record in terms of quality entertainment, but their contribution to the animation industry has been minimal. They tend not to break ground in the way Disney and Pixar do but instead supply what I like to call fast food entertainment: not bad but not very memorable.
Not to say that every animation company in the world has to be Disney. One of the reasons why Illumination has had such consistent success is that they seem to focus less on the competition and more on what audiences will find entertaining. Meledandri actually admits that his budgets are lower than the budgets of most big animation studios, which shows how little he actually cares about competing. However, for someone like me who is looking for exciting and interesting cinema, Illumination is barely on my radar. Except when it comes to those minions – they’re everywhere!