Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After topping the box office the past two weeks with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri, and Audrey Geisel will tap the Dr. Seuss library for another classic title, and this one is a surprise. They will begin developing a 3D CG-animated feature based on The Cat in the Hat. Rob Lieber has just been set to write the script. Meledandri will produce and Geisel will be executive producer.

Aside from Green Eggs And Ham and How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat In the Hat is arguably the most famous story generated by Theodor Dr. Seuss Geisel. The surprise comes from the fact that Universal turned it into a live action film in 2003. That film grossed $101 million domestic and $133 million worldwide, it cost about $109 million to make and was considered a big disappointment. While a live action Grinch was a big hit for Universal, Meledandri and Mrs. Geisel believe that the Cat has more than one life on the big screen. It is a very popular ride in Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, a ride that was always based on Dr. Seuss’s original drawings. The feeling among Meledranadi, Mrs. Geisel, and Universal Films chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley is that Seuss’s works connect better in animation, prompting Universal’s decision to make this the next project.

Meledandri started the relationship with Mrs. Geisel and the estate of her husband when he ran Fox Animation and made Horton Hears A Who there. He brought over the relationship when he agreed to start a family film division for Universal. It took a couple of years to set up a studio and stable of animators, but Illumination has been a boon for Universal’s turnaround. The division has generated three films so far, none of which cost more than $70 million. Between Despicable Me, Hop and by the time Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax has completed its revenue run, the three films will likely surpass $1 billion in global box office receipts. Despicable Me has a sequel in the works, with Al Pacino voicing the villain.

Illumination is separately working on a film about the life of Dr. Seuss, with Johnny Depp attached to play him. It’s contemplated as a live action film interspersed with animation, and it will be produced by Meledandri, David Kennedy and Infinitum Nihil’s Depp and Christi Dembrowski. Mrs. Geisel will be executive producer. Keith Bunin is writing the script.

Lieber just adapted the Judith Viorst children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for Fox and 21 Laps. He’s repped by UTA and Anonymous Content.