From Despicable Me to the Super Mario Bros. Movie, Illumination has made many memorable animated films, but how do they stack up against each other?
- Illumination has become one of the leading animation studios in the industry, with successful franchises like Despicable Me and Minions.
- While some of their projects have been disappointing, such as Hop and The Grinch, others like The Lorax and Sing have resonated with audiences.
- The studio’s biggest success and one of its best films is The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which pleased fans of the video game franchise and showcased impressive animation.
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Since its founding in 2007, Illumination has proved itself as one of the leading animation studios in the industry today. While most well-known for the Despicable Me and Minions franchises, the studio has also brought to life famous Dr. Suess books and popular video games. The studio currently has thirteen releases to its name, and some are veritable modern classics, while others are disappointing for even the most eager child audiences.
In April 2023, the studio made history with the release of their first video game adaptation, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which quickly became one of the highest grossing movies of the year. It’s clear that the 3D-focused animation studio is here to stay and will continue to release exciting animated movies. That being said, some of their previous projects have had lackluster results.
Illumination’s immediate follow-up to their incredibly successful debut with Despicable Me seemed to show signs of major trouble for the studio. The film follows a young rabbit voiced by Russell Brand who is the son of the Easter Bunny, but doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps. Hop is the only Illumination film that is not entirely animated, with several humans, like James Marsden, in live action interacting with the CG-animated characters. While the premise of Hop is cute, bright, and promising of an engaging story, the film itself squanders it with bad humor and a lack of compelling characters. Russell Brand’s controversial actions have only hurt the film further.
12 Dr. Suess’ The Grinch
Benedict Cumberbatch, Tyler the Creator, and Dr. Suess aren’t names that are often heard together, but Illumination attempted to mash them together for their modern update of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Cumberbatch seemed like a good choice, given that he had just perfected an evil voice as Smaug in The Hobbit movies. However, the updated film modernized the story of The Grinch far too much, giving him a conscience and friends of his own, so that his Christmas-fueled villainy no longer made sense. The classic book has already been adapted multiple times, so it seems rare that any family would choose to watch Illumination’s Grinch movie at Christmastime.
11 Dr. Suess’ The Lorax
Illumination’s other Dr.Suess adaptation, The Lorax, somehow remains in the zeitgeist today. The film featured voice talent from veterans like Ed Helms and Danny Devito as well as big names like Zac Efron and Taylor Swift. Many of the film’s original songs, especially “How Bad Can I Be,” remain popular with kids and teens today. While the film adaptation of The Lorax maintains the pro-environment message from the original book, the film unnecessarily complicates it with musical numbers and Hollywood conventions that distract from the original intention of the story. Also, what’s the point of casting Taylor Swift in an animated musical if she’s not even going to sing?
Related: Where To Watch The Lorax Online
10 The Secret Life of Pets 2
The sequel to 2016’s The Secret Life of Pets sought both to expand the universe and re-brand the franchise after Louis C.K.’s ousting from Hollywood. The studio’s strategy was to keep the same main character of Max the dog, but replace Louis C.K. with Patton Oswalt. Oswalt is a great voice actor, and gave new life to the character. The film also introduces Harrison Ford as Rooster, as well as several comedians in supporting roles. Despite the great cast, the sequel is unable to produce anything significantly new or interesting, and some of the performers, especially Harrison Ford, seem checked out the entire time.
Related: What The Secret Life Of Pets 2 Cast Looks Like In Real Life
9 Despicable Me 3
The third Despicable Me movie introduces Dru, Gru’s long-lost twin brother, who convinces him to return to a life of crime. While the premise of two Steve-Carell-voiced supervillains is promising, this entry in the franchise fails to reach the heights of humor and heart established by the other films. Most scenes in the film ultimately boil down to Carell yelling back and forth at himself in the same comedic voice, which can be grating to even the most dedicated audiences. South Park co-creator Trey Parker guest starts as a 1980s-obsessed villain and adds some fun, but it’s not enough to save this film from the bottom spot in the franchise.
Related: Every Despicable Me Movie, Ranked Worst To Best
8 Despicable Me 2
The first Despicable Me movie centered around lonely supervillain Gru finding a family of his own, so it makes sense that the second film in the franchise would show him finding romantic love as well. After renouncing his life of crime, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to take down a new supervillain. In his mission, he works with agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and eventually falls for her. This film comes closer to reaching the humor of the first, and introduces the iconic evil purple minions. Still, it’s hard to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle effect that the first film had.
7 Sing 2
The sequel to Sing added to the star-studded cast of singing animals, most notably with Bono himself playing the role of reclusive rock star Clay Calloway. Like the first film, Sing 2 consists of various uplifting vignettes following the characters from the first film as they face their fears to put on a new show at a world-famous theater. Also like the first film, the plot is largely secondary to the musical numbers that re-work famous pop songs. Sing 2 is a beautiful visual feat, stepping up the animation of the first one, but the plot still leaves much to be desired.
Related: Sing 2 Cast & Character Guide: What Each Actor Looks Like
In this inspiring musical special set in a city of humanoid animals, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) starts a singing contest in a desperate attempt to save his family’s theater. As a result, the other animals in the town are finally propelled to follow their own dreams of singing on a big stage. While most of the movie relies on voice talent and covers of popular songs, it still carries a winning message that all audiences, whether children or adults, can relate to. While it might not be breaking any boundaries, Sing is as heartwarming as it is entertaining.
Related: Sing 3 Animated Sequel In Development Despite Lukewarm Sing 2 Gross
In 2015, the world was completely taken over by little pill-shaped yellow creatures named Kevin, Bob, and Stuart. It’s no surprise that the minion became the mascot of Illumination, announcing the title of the studio before every movie. At the time, Minions was divisive, as children loved the humorous creatures but most people over the age of 10 found them unbearably annoying. But after the release of Minions: The Rise of Gru, they became universally beloved by even the most jaded of audiences. While Minions lacks the style and outrageous humor of its sequel, it’s still a solidly funny film that proves why the yellow creatures have become so ubiquitous.
4 The Secret Life of Pets
In 2016, Illumination tried to create two new franchises to expand their domination of the animation industry beyond the Despicable Me series: Sing and The Secret Life of Pets. While probably less catchy than the former, The Secret Life of Pets succeeded as a solid new children’s franchise. The voice cast was full of talent, although Louis C.K.’s controversy has definitely hurt the perception of the film today. It’s no secret that kids love films about animals, and this entry certainly delivered a fun and humorous take on what pets do when their owners aren’t home.
3 The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Video game adaptations are new territory for Illumination, but The Super Mario Bros Movie was a perfect fit for the studio. The announcement of the project came with the announcement of the cast, which left some fans skeptical as to how Chris Pratt could take on the iconic role of Brooklyn’s most famous plumber. Pratt ended up holding his own, while the rest of the voice cast, including Jack Black as Bowser and Charlie Day as Luigi, absolutely excelled in their roles.
The film’s animation is perhaps the most impressive work seen from Illumination yet, as it makes the viewer feel like they are really inside of their favorite Mario games while also maintaining the studio’s distinct style. It was a tough endeavor to please fans of the video game franchise across several generations, but the film delivered on its promise. Mario gave the studio its biggest financial success yet, but also one of its best films.
2 Minions: The Rise of Gru
The sequel to Minions shows their role in the origins of Gru’s legendary villainy. The film is set in 1970s San Francisco, with a star-studded soundtrack produced by pop legend Jack Antonoff. Beyond the music, the film also features a distinct visual style, proving that computer animation can still call back to the groovy art style of its predecessors. The film also introduces new minions, like the scene-stealing Otto, who generates some of the biggest laughs in all of the studio’s filmography. After five movies, it would be easy for audiences to get minion fatigue, but this sequel proves why they have lasted in pop culture.
Related: Minions: The Rise Of Gru Dives Deep Into 70s Fashion [EXCLUSIVE CLIP]
1 Despicable Me
After over a decade, the film that started it all remains Illumination’s best animated movie. This is the film that introduced the world to iconic supervillain-turned-dad Gru, as well as his even more iconic minions. After countless children’s movies that put heroes and villains into boxes they couldn’t break out of, Despicable Me was a breath of fresh air that taught children the valuable lesson that good can be found in everyone. Beyond that, the film is full of countless memorable quotes and memes. Despicable Me has undoubtedly changed the landscape of children’s animated movies forever, and thankfully, it was for the better.