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The Ultimate Illumination Entertainment Film Guide: 2010-2014

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The Ultimate Illumination Entertainment Film Guide
2010-2014 | 2015-2019

Illumination Entertainment, often called Illumination for short, is an animation production company that was founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007 for Universal Studios. They hit instant success with their very first film Despicable Me and have continued to build on this strength. In fact six of their first eight films are in the top 50 most successful animated films of all time.

Chris Meledandri

Chris Meledandri is a highly-experienced producer who had not originally intended to pursue a career in animated films. After producing Cool Runnings (1993) for Disney, a film perceived as being for a family audience, Meledandri was hired by Fox to oversee their family films, including Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998). In 1998 he administered 20th Century Fox's acquisition of Blue Sky Studios and supervised the family films they were making. Blue Sky Studios' approach was to make films on a tighter budget than rivals Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks, but they enjoyed comparatively higher international success than other animations. Meledandri believed this was because their films had a much more visual approach to storytelling that worked regardless of the viewer's native language.

Meledandri was determined to use this approach when he was headhunted by Universal Pictures to start his own animation production company. After founding it, he needed animators. With numerous rival animation studios already existing in America, he began a relationship with French animation studio, Mac Guff Ligne.

Mac Guff Ligne

Animation studio Mac Guff Ligne was founded (as MGL Studio) in Paris in 1988 by Jacques Bled and named after the term 'MacGuffin' that Alfred Hitchcock created to describe a plot point or goal. Renamed Mac Guff in 1994, it worked as a visual effects house and had made animated television projects and films including Dragon Hunters (2008) before working on Despicable Me. Following this success, in 2011 Mac Guff was split in two; Universal bought Mac Guff's animation studio, which was renamed Illumination Mac Guff and brought under Chris Meledandri's control, while Mac Guff continues as an independent visual effects house.

In the tables below, characters and actors in Bold appear in other Illumination Entertainment films.

1. Despicable Me (2010)

DirectorsPierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
PlotGru is a supervillain who is annoyed at being outclassed by his younger rival, Vector. He plans the most audacious crime of all time: the theft of the Moon. To do this he first needs to steal a shrink ray from Vector's top-secret lair. Although he is unable to get in, he notices that three orphaned girls are allowed unopposed access in order to sell cookies to Vector. Gru plans to adopt the girls just long enough to use them as a means of getting the shrink ray, with which he will steal the Moon.
Length95 minutes
SettingSuburban America and the Moon in the early 21st Century.
  • Gru, a supervillain (Steve Carrell)
  • Victor aka Vector, up-and-coming supervillain and Gru's rival (Jason Segel)
  • Dr Nefario, Gru's mad scientist (Russell Brand)
  • Margo, an orphan (Miranda Cosgrove)
  • Edith, an orphan (Dana Gaier)
  • Agnes, a unicorn-obsessed orphan (Elsie Fisher)
  • Mr Perkins, President of the Bank of Evil and father of Vector (Will Arnett)
  • Marlena, Gru's mother (Julie Andrews)
  • Miss Hattie, orphanage owner (Kristen Wiig)
  • Minions: Kevin, Bob, Stuart, Tim, Mark, Phil (Pierre Coffin)
  • Minion: Dave (Chris Renaud)
  • Minion: Jerry (Jemaine Clement)
MusicComposed by Pharrell Williams unless stated:
  • 'Sweet Home Alabama' by Edward King, Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant
  • 'Despicable Me'
  • 'Fun, Fun, Fun'
  • 'Prettiest Girls'
  • 'Rocket's Song'
  • 'The Way It Is (Vector's Theme)' by Pharrell Williams and DA Wallach
  • 'My Life'
  • 'You Should Be Dancing' by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb
Others in the Series
  • 4. Despicable Me 2 (2013)
  • 5. Minions (2015)
  • 8. Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Spin OffsShorts unless stated:
  • Home Makeover (2010)
  • Orientation Day (2010)
  • Banana (2010)
  • Minion Mayhem (2012) - Theme Park attraction
  • Puppy (2013)
  • Panic in the Mailroom (2013)
  • Training Wheels (2013)
  • Binky Nelson Unpacified (2015)
  • Competition (2015)
  • Cro Minion (2015)
  • Mower Minions (2016)
  • The Secret Life of Kyle (2017)
Bechdel TestPass

This film was created to have international appeal, combining slapstick comedy with a heart-warming tale of a villain discovering his fatherly side. A large part of the appeal is in the silly minions, who speak an international language, and, with their childish behaviour, appeal to children and adults everywhere. The film is also effective in 3D, and a key scene has Gru and the girls on a roller-coaster. Universal Studios also have a chain of theme parks and two years later Minion Mayhem would be a popular 3D theme park ride in which the riders are turned into minions and experience a typical day working for Gru. Kristen Wiig who plays Miss Hattie would return in the sequel as Lucy.

Despicable Me was the fourth most successful animated film of 2010 behind Pixar's record-breaking Toy Story 3, DreamWorks Animation's Shrek Forever After and Disney's Tangled, beating DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon and particularly Megamind, with which it shared several similarities.

2. Hop (2011)

DirectorTim Hill
PlotThe Easter Bunny hopes his son EB will take over delivering Easter Baskets to the children of the world, but EB wants to become a drummer. After an argument EB leaves Easter Island and heads to Hollywood. Meanwhile Fred O'Hare is forced to leave home and needs to find a job, but his plans are thrown into chaos when he accidentally runs EB over. Will EB phone home? Does the Hoff know talent and recognise EB's potential as a drummer? Who will become the next Easter Bunny, EB, Fred O'Hare or Carlos, the Easter Bunny's right-hand chick with his own agenda?
Length95 minutes
SettingEaster Island and Hollywood, early 21st Century
Animated Animals
  • EB, son of the Easter Bunny who wants to be a drummer (Russell Brand)
  • Easter Bunny, delivers Easter Baskets and Eggs to the children of the world in a sleigh pulled by chicks and is the father of EB (Hugh Laurie)
  • Carlos, head Easter Chick and the Easter Bunny's second who dreams of being the Easter Bunny himself (Hank Azaria)
  • Phil, chick who loves music and dancing (Hank Azaria)
  • Pink Berets, the Easter Bunny's bodyguard ninja rabbits
Live Action Characters
  • Fred O'Hare, unemployed, grown man who believes in the Easter Bunny (James Marsden)
  • Samantha 'Sam' O'Hare, Fred's more organised younger sister (Kaley Cuoco)
  • Henry O'Hare, the O'Hare family's father (Gary Cole)
  • Bonnie O'Hare, the O'Hare family's mother (Elizabeth Perkins)
  • Alex O'Hare, Fred and Sam's adopted youngest sister (Tiffany Espensen)
  • David 'The Hoff' Hasselhoff, host of 'Hoff Knows Talent' (Himself)
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, gospel musicians (Themselves)
  • 'Boogie Shoes' by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Raymond Finch
  • 'The Anthem' by Joel Madden, John Feldmann and Benji Madden
  • 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn' by Bobby Dall, CC DeVille, Bret Michaels and Rikki Rockett
  • 'Disco Inferno' by Ron Kersey and Leroy Green
  • 'Mr. Big Stuff' by Joseph Broussard, Carrol Washington and Ralph Williams
  • 'Celebrity Skin' by Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson and Billy Corgan
  • 'Higher Ground' by Stevie Wonder, performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama
  • 'Hongry' by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
  • 'Them Girlz' by Ali Theodore and Julian Michael Davis
  • 'Peg O' My Heart' by Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher
  • 'Dynamite' by Taio Cruz, Max Martin Sandberg, Lukasz Gottwald, Bonnie McKee and Benny Blanco
  • 'Peter Cottontail' by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins
  • 'We No Speak Americano' by Nicola Salerno and Renato Carosone
  • 'I Want Candy' by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, Richard Gottehrer and Bert Berns
Bechdel TestFail
LogoUniversal Studios: the Universal Pictures globe is egg-shaped
Illumination: a Minion wears bunny ears and a fluffy tail.

This is the first and so far only Illumination Entertainment film combining live-action with animation to date (2018). Although a modest success, it cost $63 million to make and made $184 million, making it the least successful film Illumination have made to date. Hop received quite poor reviews. The best stated that the plot is very predictable. Other reviews felt that the character of Carlos, a hard-working Hispanic chick who plots a coup d'état, is a racist stereotype.

Tim Hill began his career developing Spongebob Squarepants and since Muppets from Space (1999) he has become an established director of family films. He particularly has experience directing live-actions films with animated characters, such as Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties (2006) and Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007).

The sweet factory is the most impressive seen on screen since Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). However, there are a lot of jokes that would not be understood by a younger audience, including references to the Playboy Mansion and KITT, the car from Knight Rider (1982-86).

3. Dr Seuss' The Lorax (2012)

DirectorChris Renaud
PlotThneedville is a plastic town with polluted air, run by corrupt businessman Aloysius O'Hare, who makes his fortune selling air to the population. Ted is in love with Audrey, a girl who says she would do anything for someone who gave her a tree, but there are no more Truffula trees in existence. Following the advice of his grandmother Ted leaves Thneedville to find the Once-Ler, the man who knows what happened to the trees. The Once-ler tells Ted how he chopped down the trees in order to make a profit selling Thneeds, ignoring the warnings of the Lorax.
Length98 minutes
SettingThneedville and surrounding countryside
  • The Lorax, guardian of the Truffula Trees (Danny DeVito)
  • The Once-ler, inventor of the Thneed (Ed Helms)
  • Theodore 'Ted' Wiggins, tree-loving 12-year-old who wants to impress Audrey (Zac Efron)
  • Audrey, artist girl who wants to see a real tree (Taylor Swift)
  • Grammy Norma, Ted's grandmother (Betty White)
  • Aloysius O'Hare, head of O'Hare Air and mayor of Thneedville (Rob Riggle)
  • Mrs Wiggins, Ted's mother (Jenny Slate)
InspirationThe Lorax (1971) by Theodor 'Dr Seuss' Geisel
MusicWritten by John Powell and Cinco Paul unless stated:
  • 'Thneedville'
  • 'Everybody Needs a Thneed'
  • 'How Bad Can I Be' by John Powell, Cinco Paul and Kool Kojak
  • 'O'Hare Air Jingle' by Chad Fischer
  • 'Let It Grow'
  • 'These Trees'
  • 'This Is the Place'
  • 'You Need a Thneed'
LogoUniversal Studios: 100th Anniversary
Illumination: Minions chainsaw a Truffula tree.
Bechdel TestFail

During his time at Blue Sky Studios, Meledandri had developed a close working relationship with Dr Seuss' widow Audrey Geisel when making Dr Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! (2008). She had initially been reluctant to allow the making of Horton, having been disappointed by The Cat in the Hat (2003), but agreed after a year of negotiations, and ultimately enjoyed working with Meledandri. Audrey Geisel contacted Meledandri after Illumination had been founded in order to make an adaptation of The Lorax, extending the plot based on Seuss' notes. The film was released on what would have been Dr Seuss' 108th birthday.

Some changes were made to make the book into a film, including creating the characters of Ted and Audrey who care about trees in the present. These are named after Audrey and her husband in tribute. Another change was that in the book, the Once-ler's face is never seen, only green arms, although gloves are mentioned. In the film the decision was made to make the Once-ler look like a green glove-wearing human to make it apparent that the ecological destruction is the act of a normal person, not a monster.

This is Illumination Entertainment's first animated musical. Curiously, although singer Taylor Swift was cast as Audrey, she never actually sings in the film.

Dr Seuss' The Lorax cost $70 million and made $350 million. Although the least profitable Illumination Entertainment fully animated film to date, and the only one not in the top 50 most successful animated films of all time, it was still the sixth most successful animated film of the year, behind Blue Sky's Ice Age: Continental Drift, DreamWorks Animations' Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Pixar's Brave, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph and Sony Pictures Animation's Hotel Transylvania. The film attracted controversy as, despite its strong environmental message, it was used to advertise Mazda cars across a widespread co-branding marketing campaign that even included Mazda marketing executives entering schools and giving presentations aimed at telling children to get their parents to test-drive Mazda vehicles.

4. Despicable Me 2 (2013)

DirectorsPierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
PlotGru has retired from villainy and wants to pursue an honest living making jam and jelly. Following the theft of a secret potion, the PX-41, which has the power to mutate any animal into a furious, indestructible monster, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to find its whereabouts. Partnered with Lucy Wilde, they narrow the search to a shopping centre. Gru is convinced that the owner of a Salsa restaurant, whose son wishes to date his daughter Margo, is the villain, but the Anti-Villain League are unconvinced.
Length98 minutes
SettingArctic Circle and Suburban America in the early 21st Century, particularly the Paradise Shopping Mall
  • Gru, a retired supervillain and father (Steve Carrell)
  • Lucy Wilde, Anti-Villain League agent and love interest (Kristen Wiig)
  • Eduardo 'El Macho' Pérez, restaurant owner, father and villain (Benjamin Bratt)
  • Margo, an orphan (Miranda Cosgrove)
  • Edith, an orphan (Dana Gaier)
  • Agnes, a unicorn-obsessed orphan (Elsie Fisher)
  • Dr Nefario, mad scientist who has had a job offer elsewhere (Russell Brand)
  • Silas Ramsbottom, Anti-Villain League director (Steve Coogan)
  • Antonio Pérez, Margo's love interest and Eduardo's son (Moisés Aroas)
  • Minions, including Kevin, Bob, Stuart (Pierre Coffin)
  • Minions (Chris Renaud)
MusicSoundtrack composed by Heitor Pereira. Songs by Pharrell Williams unless otherwise stated:
  • 'Fun Fun Fun'
  • 'Another Irish Drinking Song' by Greg DiCostanzo and Paul Sabourin
  • 'Just a Cloud Away'
  • 'I Swear' by Gary Baker and Frank Myers
  • 'YMCA' by Henri Belolo, Jacques Morali and Victor Willis
  • 'Scream'
  • 'Happy'
  • 'Despicable Me'
Others in the Series
  • 1. Despicable Me (2010)
  • 5. Minions (2015)
  • 8. Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Spin OffsShorts unless stated:
  • Home Makeover (2010)
  • Orientation Day (2010)
  • Banana (2010)
  • Minion Mayhem (2012) – Theme Park attraction
  • Puppy (2013)
  • Panic in the Mailroom (2013)
  • Training Wheels (2013)
  • Binky Nelson Unpacified (2015)
  • Competition (2015)
  • Cro Minion (2015)
  • Mower Minions (2016)
  • The Secret Life of Kyle (2017)
Bechdel TestPass
LogoIllumination: Two Minions squabble over saying 'Ta Da!'

Despicable Me 2 was the second most successful animated film of the year, behind Disney's Frozen. It was Oscar-nominated for both Best Animated Film and Best Original Song ('Happy' by Pharrell Williams). At the time of release it was Illumination's most successful film, the 19th most successful film ever and second most successful animated film ever, behind only Toy Story 31.

Kristen Wiig had previously played Miss Hattie in Despicable Me. The villain had originally been played by Al Pacino, but when Pacino left after 'creative differences' six weeks before the film's release date, he was replaced by Benjamin Bratt. He had to match up delivering his lines to the mouth movements made for Al Pacino as there was no time to change them. Several of the background characters in Despicable Me cameo in the background here too.

1Despicable Me 2 was released in June and on release became the second most successful animated film after Toy Story 3. Frozen was released in early December and overtook Despicable Me 2.

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