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"The Secret Life of Pets" Is an Entertainment Bonanza

July 11,2016 09:16

“The Secret Life of Pets” is from Illumination Entertainment/Chris Meledandri, the same group that created “Despicable Me” and “The Minions.” That same kind of crazy but clever style permeates this film from beginning to end. Plus in one scene there ...

Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), left, and Max (Louis C.K.) face a new obstacle en route to launching Illumination Entertainment’s newest franchise, in “The Secret Life of Pets.” (Illumination/Universal) AND JUST like that, the Minions, those little lemon laborers, won’t have to do all of the heavy lifting anymore. That’s because their daddy, Illumination Entertainment, has just birthed a new franchise. Illumination and Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets” outpaced expectations to gross $103.2 million in its domestic debut, according to studio estimates — not only winning the weekend but also scoring the biggest opening for an original animated film (not adjusting for inflation). “Pets” becomes one of only six animated films ever to open north of the $100 million mark domestically; all five others are sequels, topped by Disney and Pixar’s “Finding Dory” ($135 million) and including Illumination’s biggest opener ever, last year’s “Minions” ($115.7 million). [Why Dory is one of Pixar’s most popular characters] “Minions” was the third film in the “Despicable Me” franchise, which has grossed nearly $2.7 billion worldwide ($1.03 billion adjusted). Now, with “Pets” easily topping projections, director Chris Renaud caps a remarkable decade by helping to deliver Illumination an entirely new universe to build sequels on, if not spin off of. [From the artist’s mouth: Here’s why the Minions are so visually addictive] “Pets,” like the “Despicable Me” films, boasts a wealth of top comedic talent, including the voices of Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate and Eric Stonestreet (as well as veteran Pixar voice Albert Brooks). And “Pets” is densely populated with enough appealing critters that the sequels will have an embarrassment of rich characters to draw upon — especially Slate’s sweet-yapping Gidget and Hart’s underworld bunny Snowball. But “Pets,” on a larger scale, bolsters Illumination’s status as a major player in feature-film animation beyond a single franchise. And the new film’s success — for a relatively modest-for-modern-animation budget of $75 million — cements the reputations of some key Illumination players. Chris Meledandri, for instance, was executive producer on such films as Blue Sky Studio’s “Ice Age” and “Robots” for Fox (where he was president of its animation studios) before founding Illumination in 2007. Meledandri and “Ice Age” director Carlos Saldanha were also executive producers on the 2006 Oscar-nominated short “No Time for Nuts” (featuring “Ice Age’s” Scrat). “No Time for Nuts” marked the emergence of director Renaud, a two-time Oscar nominee who soon graduated to Illumination’s “The Lorax” and the “Despicable Me” franchise (for which he will next help direct the third sequel, due out next year). For “Pets,” the Baltimore-sprung filmmaker re-teamed with such “Despicable” talents as Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Yarrow Cheney. Now, Renaud’s stock is as golden as the minions (which are co-created with Pierre Coffin) are yellow. And Illumination, which is owned by Universal (and thus Comcast), is beautifully positioned to grow its CGI empire. Now, how long did the secret lives of pets and Minions begin to intertwine on-screen? FUN WITH NUMBERS Every film that has opened north of the $100-million mark in North American theaters this year has been either animation or a superhero film. They are: “Captain America: Civil War,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Finding Dory,” “Deadpool” and “The Jungle Book.” The three biggest films of the year worldwide — “Civil War” ($1.15 billion), “Zootopia” ($1.02 billion) and “The Jungle Book” ($936 million) — are all distributed by Disney. And Disney and Pixar’s “Dory” ($422.6 million) is the year’s biggest film domestically. Ten of the year’s 11 biggest films domestically are either superhero films or rely heavily or entirely on CGI. The only exception is the live-action comedy “Central Intelligence,” starring Hart and Dwayne Johnson (soon to be heard in Disney’s animated “Moana”), at No. 9. Save Save

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