In nod to other famous alum., Meledandri produces ‘Lorax’
By Sophia Archibald, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Editors Note: This is the third in a five-part series profiling several Dartmouth alumni in entertainment and the Dartmouth Alumni in Entertainment and Media Association.
Dartmouth is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Hollywood and the film industry. The Hanover-to-Hollywood linkage is more evident, however, in the case of an industry regular like Chris Meledandri ’81, who produced the film version of “Horton Hears a Who!” (2008) and is now producing another Dr. Seuss classic, “The Lorax” (2012). While Dartmouth played a large role in his rise to a successful career in film production, Meledandri’s familiarity with the children’s books of Theodor Seuss Geisel ’25 is not merely a by-product of his time at the College.
“My initial interest in Dr. Seuss really sprang from my home exposure as a child and then as a parent,” Meledandri said. “However, when I discovered the Dartmouth connection and I started to dig into it really deeply, I was fascinated.”
“Horton Hears a Who!” and “The Lorax” both provided opportunities for Meledandri to be involved in the creation of visually appealing and meaningful animation.
“The privilege to be able to work on a project that unites so many different people from so many different cultures and of so many different ages is quite awesome,” he said.
“The Lorax” will feature an expansion of Dr. Seuss’ story, Meledandri said. The reworking of the story was developed with the help of Geisel’s widow, Audrey Geisel. The voice cast will feature Danny DeVito as the Lorax as well as Taylor Swift, Zac Efron and Ed Helms.
Meledandri, a member of the Producers Guild of America, has worked on over 20 films, including “Despicable Me” (2010) and “Ice Age” (2002). In 2007, he founded Illumination Entertainment, the film production company responsible for “Despicable Me” and “The Lorax.” Meledandri has not limited himself to animation, however — he has also worked on live-action films like “Cool Runnings” (1993).
“I never planned to make animated films, it was something that happened almost by accident,” Meledandri said. “Now that I’ve been doing it for over 15 years I find that it is a great medium for a producer’s involvement, and today it is this wonderful point where art and technology meet.”
In his work as a producer, Meledandri is responsible for every aspect of the film, from the generation of the movie concept to the distribution of the DVD version. Meledandri oversees finances, marketing and creative development of the film throughout its production.
Meledandri had artistic visions at the College from the get-go, but arrived at Dartmouth hoping to study directing in theater. His interest changed during his freshman spring, when he took a history of film theory class with David Thomson, a famous British film critic who contributes regularly to The New York Times and other publications.
“When I look back on all of my education and I think about moments where my enthusiasm and curiosity were ignited by the teachers, I always think back to David Thomson,” Meledandri said. “He was exposing me to ideas and ways of thinking that I had never before contemplated.”
Meledandri’s “obsession” with the film industry only grew during his next three years at the College — Meledandri said that he took about seven more classes with Thomson. The film department was also remarkable for the valuable interdisciplinary lessons Meledandri gained, he said.
“What I connected with through David Thomson’s teaching was [the concept of] movies as a window through which to enter the study of ideas,” Meledandri said. “My initial interest and attraction was much more focused on film theory and film history, and it was through the study of film that I learned about everything from history, religion, philosophy and really how to write.”
During Meledandri’s time at Dartmouth, Thomson arranged for acclaimed British filmmaker Michael Powell to teach as a visiting professor. According to Meledandri, Powell’s class was built around filming a scene from a book that Powell had wanted to adapt — “The Earthsea Trilogy” by Ursula Le Guin. The students did everything from lighting to set construction to acting. Meledandri also made a documentary about the class and about Powell coming to Dartmouth.
“I took that term and turned it into two opportunities to focus on production,” Meledandri said.
During his senior year, Meledandri quickly found an opportunity to work in the film industry after graduation. Meledandri was offered a job by his father’s friend Daniel Melnick, who was moving to 20th Century Fox that year.
“[Melnick] came to me and said that he was starting a new [production] company in [Los Angeles],” Meledandri said. “If I could prove to him that I could graduate and get my degree from Dartmouth, he would offer me a job.”
The experience that Meledandri gained in his work with Dartmouth’s film department significantly helped him break into the industry, Meledandri said.
“It was definitely the point of ignition,” Meledandri said. “The knowledge of film that I was armed with really enabled me to have a fluency in the language of film.”