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In a summer that's been littered with underperforming would-be blockbusters and outright flops, Despicable Me is a remarkable story for many reasons. Namely, it's a hit, grossing $56.3 for its opening last weekend, which is massive coming from an up-and-coming animation studio (Illumination, based at Universal) and a completely original film, with no books or previous movies to spring off from (sorry, Toy Story 3). Perhaps most importantly it's a saving grace for Universal, a studio that's suffered a long series of flops (last summer seemed like just one disaster after another) and has been struggling for years to break into the family-friendly animation business.
And while Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud are the film's directors, it's probably Illumination head Chris Meladandri who deserves most of the credit, for putting the studio together by recruiting all the good animators he knew, and encouraging original ideas amid the expected adaptations and remakes (those are coming down the line). In a ridiculously glowing piece in Deadline Meledandri is showered with all kinds of praise for building what they seem to think is the next Pixar, but they also manage to reveal some actual news about where Illumination may be headed next.
Primarily-- and this should come as no surprise-- the gears are already in motion for Despicable Me 2, which Meledandri is developing with the film's writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. They're also planning two short films featuring the Minions, Gru's little yellow assistants who were apparently a major part of the film's appeal to kids (even though they totally got on my nerves). It's not clear where we might see the Minions next-- either before another Illumination film or on the DVD or somewhere else-- but you can definitely count on an enhanced role for them in the sequels.
As for what else Illumination might make, they have a ton of other projects in development or finished, with the Russell Brand-starring Hop-a coming next April to be followed by The Lorax, which will be co-directed by Despicable writers Paul and Daurio. The two also wrote Horton Hears a Who! back when they and Meledandri were based at Fox Animation, so their Dr. Seuss credentials are very much in place.
It's taken nearly 15 years, but it now looks as if there is actual competition against Pixar for high-quality animated films that adults can enjoy as well. The plan is for Illumination to soon start releasing two or three films every year, and if they can manage to be more prolific than Pixar and DreamWorks and keep the films of a high quality, they could go from underdogs to overlords in no time.