Universal Pictures has hired away Christopher Meledandri, the president of Twentieth Century Fox Animation and animation exec who oversaw the hit ICE AGE movies, to produce animated and live-action family films. Universal Pictures has entered into a five-year production agreement with Meledandri in what the studio sees as the first step in creating a separately financed production company to distribute family films via Universal Pictures worldwide distribution operations. The agreement, beginning in April 2007, was announced today (Jan. 18, 2007) by Marc Shmuger and David Linde, chairman/co-chairman of Universal Pictures; and Meledandri.
"Chris is one of the most consistently successful talents working in family films, and we are very excited to be bringing him to Universal Pictures," said Shmuger and Linde. "He has built a track record of excellence by understanding every aspect of his business, from the creative to the most current technology to the changing tastes of a global marketplace. Family entertainment was a major part of our studio's tradition, and revitalizing it is a crucial component of our strategy for the future."
Donna Langley, president of production at Universal Pictures, said, "Chris has the best possible relationships in the family film arena, and has proven that he's someone who can both choose outstanding material and execute it at the highest level of quality. We are thrilled to be collaborating with him."
While president of Twentieth Century Fox Animation, Meledandri oversaw the business and creative operations of Blue Sky Studios, Fox's CGI animation studio based in New York. In 1998, Meledandri acquired full ownership of Blue Sky Studios for Fox.
After supervising Blue Sky's reorganization and expansion, Meledandri began production on the 3D-animated ICE AGE, which grossed $383 million worldwide and sold more than 27 million DVDs. Meledandri also exec produced the Academy Award-nominated spinoff short, GONE NUTTY.
Fox Animation and Blue Sky followed ICE AGE with the $250 million worldwide-grossing ROBOTS, which Meledandri exec produced, as well as ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN. The sequel film became the third-highest-grossing film of 2006, earning $637 million worldwide.
Meledandri most recently exec produced the upcoming film, Dr. Seuss' HORTON HEARS A WHO, starring Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. He has also been shepherding the production of the Fox animated feature, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, slated for release in July of this year.
Prior to Fox, Meledandri was president of Dawn Steel Pictures at The Walt Disney Studios where he exec produced COOL RUNNINGS.
In 2003, Meledandri signed director Chris Wedge to a five-year, multipicture exclusive deal with 20th Century Fox that included the ICE AGE sequel, ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN, and ROBOTS. Other projects on tap via Meledandi for Twentieth Century Fox Animation are EMILY THE STRANGE and THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.
John Cohen, vp of production at Twentieth Century Fox Animation, has been overseeing HORTON HEARS A WHO for Fox. Cohen, in conjunction with 20th Century Fox Home Ent., landed the rights to distribute a direct-to-video movie based on the enormously popular BRATZ toy line. He is also developing a live-action BRATZ movie with writer Dana Fox.
Meledandri said, "Peter Chernin, Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos have not only been terrific bosses, but they have been my mentors and friends. I will miss them and my extended family of colleagues at Fox and Blue Sky. However, I found that I could not turn away from the extraordinary opportunity that Marc and David have offered me at Universal Pictures: the entrepreneurial aspect, the excitement about building a new company, the breadth of the production mandate to include all forms of animation, as well as live action, and, most importantly, Marc and David's ideas about movies, specifically their commitment to quality, as well as their ideas about how to market movies in an increasingly competitive marketplace."
Universal Pictures most recent animated feature release was CURIOUS GEORGE. Its next animated feature is THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, directed by Mike Johnson, produced by Gary Ross and Allison Thomas, the first project under the Framestore Feature Animation banner, set for a holiday 2008 release.
Creative Artists Agency and Skip Brittenham brokered the deal on behalf of Meledandri.