Illumination is one of the entertainment industry’s leading producers of event-animated films
Founded with the mission to produce both original stories and adaptations of beloved classics, Illumination is known for developing dimensional and distinctive characters who embody both the sweet and the subversive. Their often mischievous antics are balanced by good intentions and innocence, making them lovable and relatable. As such, the Despicable Me franchise has become the defining DNA of the company.
Illumination’s films have become a worldwide phenomenon. Across the globe, Despicable Me has permeated the zeitgeist, with the Minions alone having an astonishing 95-percent awareness. Populated with characters that are distinctive, comedic and authentic, the studio’s $4.7-billion-grossing movies—including two of the top-six animated ones of all time—captivate audiences of all ages and cultures.
In 2016, Illumination, which was recently honored by Fast Company as one of the world’s most innovative companies, launched two original properties that captivated audiences across the globe. Last summer, The Secret Life of Pets achieved the best opening for an original movie, animated or otherwise, in U.S. history. Likewise, the critically lauded holiday favorite Sing premiered to a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Now, Illumination, who brought moviegoers Despicable Me and the biggest animated hits of 2013 and 2015, Despicable Me 2 and Minions, continues the story of Gru, Lucy, their adorable daughters—Margo, Edith and Agnes—and the Minions in Despicable Me 3.
“In the first movie, Gru discovered what it is like to be a parent and what unconditional love is. In the second, we explored Gru falling in love. Now, we start off with Gru having an identity crisis because he finds himself fired from his job, as well as discovering a newfound sibling rivalry.” —Chris Meledandri
Illumination and Universal Pictures’ blockbuster Despicable Me introduced global audiences to super-villain Gru and his mischievous Minions. After becoming a father to orphans Margo, Edith and Agnes, initially as part of an evil scheme to steal the moon, Gru ultimately gave up his life of crime and turned from Super Bad to Super Dad.
In Despicable Me 2, Gru was recruited by the Anti-Villain League (AVL) to put his skills as a former villain to use and brought the worst of the worst to justice. Never thinking romance was in the cards, Gru wound up falling hard for his super-spy partner, Lucy. To the delight of his daughters—who had always wanted a mom—he ultimately asked Lucy to marry him.
In Minions (which was released in 2015 but is a prequel to the Despicable Me franchise), we learned the origins of the lovable, yellow creatures and saw how Kevin, Stuart and Bob’s comedically misguided quest for an evil leader ultimately led them to team up with a young Gru. The mischievous trio will return for Minions 2 in July 2020.
This summer, in Despicable Me 3, Gru and his new wife, Lucy, are unable to take down the latest villain to threaten humanity—an ’80s-fixated former child TV star named Balthazar Bratt who was abruptly fired in that decade and is now obsessed with revenge on Hollywood. As a result, they are humiliated and fired by the new boss of the AVL.
After he is fired from the Anti-Villain League for failing to take down the latest bad guy to threaten humanity, Gru finds himself in the midst of a major identity crisis. But when a mysterious stranger shows up to inform Gru that he has a long-lost twin brother—a brother who desperately wishes to follow in his twin’s despicable footsteps—one former super-villain will rediscover just how good it feels to be bad.
Chris Meledandri approached Despicable Me 3 with two primary goals. “One was to honor the elements that audiences love,” he says. “The second was to create new, fresh experiences and characters that make the film dynamic. The Despicable Me movies work because, while on one hand, they’re broad, funny and fun….there’s also an emotional resonance that runs through their center. They continue to resonate because of the characters. The Minions charm and delight audiences, and even though Gru was a villain, we still find him highly relatable and want him to succeed in any situation.”
In Despicable Me 3, Gru discovers a family he never knew.
“While, narratively, movies are generally about protagonists overcoming obstacles, it’s how they do that—and what happens along the way—that needs to surprise and delight,” Meledandri continues. “I’m especially proud that our team has been able to create a nostalgic pull toward characters we’ve all grown close to, as well as provide a sense of discovery with all these new elements.”
Daurio, alongside writing partner Paul, has collaborated with Meledandri since their days at 20th Century Fox on Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!.
Paul met Daurio while working on a church musical and they bonded immediately. In 1999, they sold their first screenplay, Special, a dark comedy that they later turned into a short film that went on to play the festival circuit.
Variety has referred to Paul and Ken Daurio as the “Billion Dollar Screenwriters” since their films have grossed over a billion dollars at the box office worldwide.
The writer offers that Meledandri and Healy encouraged them to not only mine the humor of this world, but to give the story emotional resonance through the siblings’ reunion. “We thought it would be a great idea to give Gru another person to drive him nuts and make him wonder about his purpose,” says Daurio. “Dru gets Gru excited about the possibility of being in villainy again. It’s very, ‘Come on…just one heist. It’s in our blood. We’re supposed to do this…’”
Paul was inspired that the series’ longtime star would be tackling a new voice role. “Our first idea was that Gru had a long-lost twin brother,” he notes, “and that it would be a great opportunity for Steve to play against himself.”
“Once we opened the door to Gru’s brother, we had a lot of storytelling terrain,” Meledandri says. “The creation of Dru came down to a core idea: that we’d find expressions of a personality who looked like Gru, but was his opposite in every way. That defined the objective.” The excitement of meeting his twin soon fades, and Gru experiences sibling rivalry that further complicates his mid-life crisis.
The other new addition to the franchise is Balthazar Bratt, a formidable super-villain who has been plotting to destroy Hollywood after his TV show was canceled. Bratt, who has been obsessed with the ’80s since he briefly ruled as a child star in that decade, has never gotten over that disappointment—nor forgiven his audience for abandoning him. “Once we heard Cinco and Ken’s idea for Bratt, we connected with the humor and sadness of a faded child star from the ’80s,” explains Meledandri. “It’s just too perfect of a place to go. Villains are critical parts of each of our films. You need to give Gru a worthy adversary—someone who presents a real challenge to Lucy and him, as well as someone who is worthy comedically. Gru is so fun and lively, that if you put a very straight villain against him, that character will just disappear.”
Movies are generally about protagonists overcoming obstacles, it’s how they do that—and what happens along the way—that needs to surprise and delight.
Meledandri admits that Gru’s new nemesis is one of his favorite characters Illumination has ever created. “Balthazar Bratt is such an original and funny villain. He can’t get past the fact that his fans don’t care about him anymore, and his motivation is seeking revenge on the world that turned its back on him…and doing it in the guise of a grown-up version of his childhood TV persona. When you take that wacky idea and bring Trey’s voice to it, it brings a whole new attitude into the film. It’s the design, the voice and spectacular animation; the nuance in this performance is exceptional. That’s a tribute to an incredible group, a team who has pulled off one of the greatest animated performances I’ve ever seen.”
Paul discusses that, naturally, Bratt needed a tagline to accompany his cheesiness: “Most ’80s child stars had memorable catchphrases, such as ‘Whatcha talkin’ ’bout, Willis?’ which was how people identified with a certain show. Balthazar’s is ‘I’ve been a bad boy!’ and he still uses it today.”
For Despicable Me 3, director Pierre Coffin—who helms his fourth film in the franchise—collaborates with fellow director Kyle Balda, with whom Coffin had partnered on Minions, and co-director Eric Guillon—Illumination’s longtime production and character designer, who set the look of the Despicable Me films—from designs inspired by the works of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams.
Discussing the co-director and directors, Meledandri lauds: “Eric is an extraordinary designer who has created characters and environments on every film we’ve done. He also thinks like a storyteller. When he draws an image, frequently the image places the character in a place that suggests a very clear story. Likewise, Pierre is not only the voice and the soul of the Minions, he is a phenomenal artist and filmmaker. Early on, he introduced us to Kyle, who was the head of layout on Despicable Me and brings this clarity of filmmaking that extends from the construction of a sequence. He’s a very special filmmaker in his own right and a tremendous collaborator with Pierre.”
“With the time between the films, we have been able to advance the character models,” explains Coffin. “For his part, Gru has softened just a touch since he became a dad. He’s not the hardened super-villain we first met, but he still has that despicable edge to him. Lucy is extremely stylish, and even though it makes her harder to animate, her ever-present scarf just defines her. Margo is even more expressive and relatable in this chapter; Edith’s mischievousness is even more subtle; and Agnes—if it is possible—is more adorable than we could imagine.”
Balda reveals that because so much work occurs simultaneously, having three directing partners is advantageous. “The acting is done at the same time as the cinematography and the story development. Multiple directors allow us to divide tasks in the creative process. Pierre is heavily involved in the animation process and the story, Eric is more involved in the visual concepts and character designs, and I focus on the storyboarding and editing.”
Daurio reflects on the wily agent’s evolution from single super-spy to new wife and mom: “This is new territory for Lucy. She is adventurous and nothing scares her—except being a mom. This is the one time we have seen Lucy in a situation she is not sure how to handle, and it is fun to watch her navigate her new role as a stepmom.”
Just as Lucy is adjusting to the new family dynamics, her eldest daughter is struggling in her own right. “Margo goes from being the mom of these other girls to now, she’s got her own mom who is going to step into that role,” shares Daurio. “That adds to a bit of conflict between Margo and Lucy, and it’s interesting to see them navigate these waters.”
While their older sister is shutting down the advances of a young Freedonian pig farmer several years her junior, Edith and Agnes are finding drama of their own. As her little sister sets out to find an elusive unicorn that supposedly lives in the Freedonian woods, Edith goes along skeptically, but is at the ready to post the video on social media for fame and riches…in case the legend turns out to be true.
No Despicable Me chapter would be complete without everyone’s favorite mischievous henchmen, and with each subsequent film, we introduce new Minion co-stars. In Despicable Me 3, we meet Minion Mel, who begins the revolt against Gru and leads the Minions as they strike out on their own. “In pure Minion fashion they end up getting in trouble and are thrown in jail,” states Balda. “They start out as underdogs, but end up being the big bosses of prison: the ones the prisoners are afraid of.” Still, it’s impossible to imagine a world in which Gru and the Minions don’t miss each other and reconcile. “Ultimately, it is reinforced that the Minions and Gru need one another.”
Illumination, founded by Academy Award nominee Chris Meledandri in 2007, is one of the entertainment industry’s leading producers of event-animated films. The company’s franchises include two of the top-six animated films of all time, and its iconic, beloved brands—infused with memorable and distinct characters, global appeal and cultural relevance—have grossed more than $4.7 billion worldwide. Illumination was recently honored by Fast Company as one of the world’s most innovative companies.
Illumination, which has an exclusive financing and distribution partnership with Universal Pictures, has garnered an extraordinary number of franchise successes for a studio only a decade old. As the creator of the hugely successful world of Despicable Me, which has just been crowned the second-largest box-office animated franchise globally, Illumination has evolved the Despicable Me series to include Minions, the second-highest-grossing animated film of all time and the most profitable film in Universal’s history, as well as the Academy Award®-nominated Despicable Me 2 and summer 2017’s much-anticipated Despicable Me 3.
In 2016 alone, Illumination launched two original properties that captivated audiences worldwide. Last summer, The Secret Life of Pets achieved the best opening for an original movie, animated or otherwise, in U.S. history. Likewise, the critically lauded holiday favorite Sing premiered to a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival before becoming a global smash.
Founded 10 years ago with the mission of putting a smile on the face of every member of the audience, no matter their age, Illumination continues to imagine both original stories, as well as unexpected adaptations of beloved pre-existing works. By infusing joy and discovery into every property, the studio allows audiences to connect their experiences with each property to the Illumination brand itself.
With successful mobile games, consumer products and social/digital media, Illumination’s franchises—populated with characters that are as comedic as they are heartfelt and authentic—translate far beyond the theater. “Despicable Me: Minion Rush” has now become the fifth-most popular game ever, while Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood, has newly been joined by the wildly popular Minion Park at Universal Studios Japan…where the Minions are the No. 1 licensed characters.
In addition to this summer’s Despicable Me 3, Illumination’s upcoming films—featuring creative contributors from an unparalleled collection of writers, artists, voice talent and musicians—include Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch in November 2018, The Secret Life of Pets 2 in July 2019, Minions 2 in July 2020, and Sing 2 in December 2020.