Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri has acquired rights to turn the Uglydoll franchise into an animated feature film. Universal Pictures and Illumination will develop the film based on the global line of Uglydoll characters launched by husband-wife artist team David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. Meet the Fockers scribe Larry Stuckey will write the script, inspired by the dolls and stories created by Horvath and Kim. Meledandri will produce, and Horvath and Kim will be executive producers through their Pretty Ugly LLC banner. The plan is to start with the feature and then branch into a wider range of media opportunities.

Meledandri told me he first started seeing the designs at the Giant Robot store near his home over a decade ago, and “I remember the immediate appeal and connection that the characters had for me. They are simple in design, expressive in personality, and once I got to know David and Sun-Min, I learned there was a mythology and a world behind this,” he said. “The personality and level of wit reminded me of the illustrated work I saw from Matt Groening before he did The Simpsons. The characters have a cult following, and they’ve been very restrictive in where and how they’ve sold them. It has been a small cottage industry, but it seems just right for us in terms of the potential for a growth curve. Most importantly, the strength cuts to the heart of our strategy, which is, to start from the perspective of characters we feel have unique appeal to audiences, regardless of age.”

Illumination, whose first release Despicable Me is being turned into a Universal theme park attraction, followed with Hop and is also developing a stop-motion film based on the original Addams Family characters created by Charles Addams, with Tim Burton directing. Illumination recently cast Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Rob Riggle and Betty White to provide the principal voices for The Lorax, the film based on the Dr. Seuss book. Meledandri’s also got a CG-animated feature in the works, based on Ricky Gervais’ book series Flanimals. On the personnel front, Illumination yesterday hired Universal Pictures marketing president Eddie Egan to head its marketing.

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