How Chris Meledandri Became the Most Powerful Man in Animation

Variety | 11/6/2018 | Brent Lang
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Chris Meledandri is Hollywood’s most reluctant mogul.

With Jeffrey Katzenberg selling DreamWorks and John Lasseter forced out at Disney over harassment allegations, the founder of Illumination Entertainment is the last person standing among the trio of industry animation titans.

Whereas - Lasseter - Decades - Figure - Pixar

Whereas Lasseter for decades cut a larger-than-life figure at Pixar’s sprawling campus in Emeryville, Calif., dominating rooms with his Hawaiian-shirted ebullience, and Katzenberg’s oracular intensity oozed out of every square inch of DreamWorks’ former 15-acre Glendale headquarters, the shy and deeply intellectual Meledandri prefers to retreat behind his work at a rather modest Santa Monica office building with minimal signage. He lets the films speak for themselves.

“He’s a little bit of an enigma,” says Chris Renaud, the director of “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Despicable Me.” “He’s a creative guy, but he looks like an executive type. He’s always wearing a jacket.”

Grinch - Theaters - Nov - Run - Box

When “The Grinch” hits theaters on Nov. 9, it will likely extend a run of box office hits that hasn’t been seen since Pixar’s glory days. The animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale is the latest offering from Illumination, a company that has established itself as one of the preeminent brands in family entertainment thanks to the “Despicable Me” franchise as well as “Sing” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”

These films differentiated themselves from wave upon wave of Disney imitators because, in the words of Meledandri, they “have a little bite to them.” Illumination movies — which are produced for less than half of what a typical Pixar film costs (“Grinch” had a $75 million budget) — appeal to older viewers, not just kids, in part because they carry PG ratings, boast popular music from the likes of Pharrell Williams and Tyler the Creator and are as interested in scoring big laughs as they are in tugging heartstrings.

“We embrace...
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