According to The Hollywood Reporter, Illumination Entertainment, the company behind “Despicable Me” and, more recently, the fluffy eco-fable “The Lorax,” will once again partner with Universal Pictures, this time on a live action/animated version of “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Woof.
“Clifford the Big Red Dog” is based on a beloved children’s book about a giant (but incredibly good-tempered) canine that was written by American author Norman Bridwell and first published in 1963. The ‘Clifford’ story had been previously animated in the form of a British/American co-production that ran on PBS first in the late eighties and then again in the early aughts (Clifford was voiced by John Ritter up until the time of his death).
This new version of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” will be written by Matt Lopez, a screenwriter who has been responsible for a string of high-profile Disney flops, having worked on “Bedtime Stories,” “Race to Witch Mountain,” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” His only previous animated experience was on Disney’s woe-begotten “The Wild,” providing “additional story material” (whatever that means) for that doomed animated feature. The Hollywood Reporter report notes that Lopez is also working on “Asteroids,” based on the popular videogame, for Universal and “The Dangerous Book for Boys” for Scott Rudin.
Illumination is a small, relatively young studio that was founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007 and has so far had three hit films in three years – 2010’s “Despicable Me,” last year’s Easter-themed “Hop,” and this year’s “The Lorax.” The studio is co-owned by Universal, with Universal seeing Illumination as their Pixar – a wing to produce quality, low-cost family-friendly features. The Illumination characters are already hugely important to the Universal brand – not only is a sequel to “Despicable Me” set to be released next summer, but characters from both “Despicable Me” and “Hop” recently debuted in a Universal Studios parade in the Florida park, with “Despicable Me” getting its own simulator ride later this summer.
There are a number of far more interesting projects in development at Illumination, including a 3D stop-motion animated adaptation of Charles Addams’ “Addams Family” cartoon strip and another film based on Ricky Gervais’ “Flanimals” children’s books. (Following the success of “The Lorax,” they also have a number of Dr. Seuss-related projects in the pipeline including the Johnny Depp-produced biopic.) It’ll be interesting to see whether the animation in “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” since it will incorporate live action, will be handled by Illumination itself or be outsourced, as was the case with “Hop” (all those furry creatures were created by Rhythm & Hues under the supervision of veteran character designer Peter de Seve).
No release date has been set yet for “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” but given the time-intensive nature of these projects, it’ll be at least a few more years before he comes stomping into theaters.