Back in April, NBCUniversal announced its intent to acquire DreamWorks Animation, thus giving the corporation another infusion of family-oriented animated entertainment to compliment the already lucrative Illumination Entertainment (the studio behind the Despicable Me movies, The Secret Life of Pets, and more). And unsurprisingly, this acquisition has come with expectations; specifically for what franchises NBCUniversal wants in active development.
According to THR, NBCUniversal plans to greenlight two DreamWorks Animation films per year, a move that will likely let them keep pace with Disney, which, through their partnership with Pixar and their own Disney Animation Studios, is cranking out 2-3 animated films per year. For 2019, NBCUniversal is slating “Shrek 5 and a creation from Edgar Wright and David Walliams titled Shadows.”
That’s not too surprising. When new corporate ownership comes in, they want to make sure the biggest franchise are turning out new installments. That’s why we’re getting new Star Wars films from now until the end of time. While Shrek Forever After promised an end to the animated franchise, I don’t think any of us seriously believed that would be the big ogre’s last outing, and now it looks like we’ll be seeing him again in a few years.
As for Shadows, we last learned about the project back in November. It’s a revamped version of a project DreamWorks Animation previously tried to get off the ground, entitled Me and My Shadow. The story at the time was “an incredibly frustrated shadow that years for a more dynamic life but happens to be stuck with Stanley Grubb, the world’s most boring human.” We don’t know what Wright and Walliams have changed, but I’m automatically on board with anything Wright does, and I’m excited to see his foray into directing an animated feature.
But who will be overseeing all of this? DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg “is expected to pursue a technology-centric venture at the intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.” There seemed to be an expectation that Illumination’s Chris Meledandri would take over DWA, but an insider tells THR that while Universal expects him to have some kind of role, “he is said to be conflicted about what that might be.”
So why doesn’t Meledandri want the gig? Sources tell THR, “It’s not so much in Meledandri’s nature to delegate, say associates; rather, he remains immersed in details of whatever film is in production. He is so hands-on that he has an Avid editing setup in his office.”
While Meledandri’s role remains in question—Universal presumes he’ll be involved with DreamWorks Animation in some capacity—Katzenberg will oversee the current slate until the acquisition is finalized, which means he’s keeping an eye on the studio’s upcoming features Trolls and Boss Baby. A source says that studio chief Donna Langley, “will keep it moving forward until Chris decides what he wants to do. To the degree he wants to do more, he will. If it’s less, she’ll step in.”
It makes sense that NBCUniversal wants Meledandri to have a big role since his films have been major successes. The problem is that is films aren’t particularly good. An associate even told THR that Meledandri is “not trying to make Inside Out [but] more populist entertainment,” and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with populist entertainment, that seems to be code for making lazy movies. And you can see that in his work. Pixar rose to success on deep, heartfelt stories with comedy that appealed to both young and older viewers. Illumination Entertainment is a success because of yellow blobs that speak gibberish.