Creator / DreamWorks Animation

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There was this wonderful great mission statement that Walt Disney had: 'I make movies for children, and the child that exists in all of us'. And 14 years later at DreamWorks I can say 'We make movies for adults, and the adult that exists in every child'. And that literally has been our approach.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, in a 2007 interview promoting Bee Movie

The studio that managed to finally destroy the long-held perception that all feature film animation is Disney.

DreamWorks Animation's story begins with Jeffrey Katzenberg — one of the architects of the Disney Renaissance — getting fired from Disneynote , and co-founding DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Katzenberg used his portion of the studio to create a new animation subsidiary, merging with animation studio and partner Pacific Data Images (PDI)note . After Spielberg's Amblimation shut down, most of its animators moved to DreamWorks.

1994-2004: Katzenberg's dream and humble beginnings

Katzenberg's ultimate goal was to compete directly with his old bosses on their home turf: feature animation. To that end, DWA came roaring out of the gate in 1998 with The Prince of Egypt, an animated epic telling the story of Moses and the Exodus — similar to but distinct from Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. A fine article about the environment in which Prince was made can be read here. Prince performed extremely well at the box office, though still below Disney's films from that decade. The same year, DWA released the All-CGI Cartoon Antz, a blatant Follow the Leader of Pixar's A Bug's Life although Antz actually premiered first. More on that film and its repercussions further down this page.

In addition to its in-house films, DWA also benefited from a partnership with Aardman Animations, with Nick Park creating well-received stop-motion films like Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Although Prince of Egypt had been a success, DWA's follow-up traditionally-animated films met with diminishing returns. The Road to El Dorado failed to recoup its budget (to date the only DWA film not to do so), and although Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron & Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas both turned profits, they suffered from poor critical reviews in part because of typical North American All Animation Is Disney prejudice — as well as their returns looking absolutely pathetic on the heels of Shrek. 2003's Sinbad in particular only made back its budget upon international release and performed poorly enough with critics to cause DWA to stop traditional animation completely.note 

Computer animation was another story entirely. Antz proved a surprisingly big hit with comparable critical acclaim to Pixar's A Bug's Life, and it eventually showed DWA the path they would take to success. The premiere of Shrek in 2001 changed the animation game completely. Using Katzenberg's penchant for rampant celebrity casting and modelling the characters from their movies after the actors voicing them to the max, this film finally put DWA on the map as a legitimate competitor in the feature film market, permanently opening the door Disney largely held shut for decades. It's a fact made undeniable with this film winning the first Academy Award for Best Feature Animated Film. The studio's success in animation led to Katzenberg leaving the DreamWorks venture entirely in 2004, taking the animation division with him, and DWA became its own, publicly-traded studio it is today. The live-action DreamWorks studio continued to release DWA's films up until DreamWorks was acquired by Paramount Pictures, the film unit of Viacom, in 2006. As a result, DWA struck a separate distribution deal with Paramount thereafter, freeing them of any obligations with their former parent company.


2004-2012: Brief creative slump, then rebound

Post-Shrek 2, however, DWA hit something of a Dork Age — an impressive feat for a studio less than a decade old. In addition to the increasingly blatant Stunt Casting, their films became notorious for being simply conduits for pop-culture references and toilet humor (and predictable plots). With the notable exception of 2006's Over the Hedge, nearly every film DWA put out in the middle of the 2000's was savaged by critics — though they still performed well at the box office (usually beating contemporary Disney CGI films). Shark Tale holds the distinction of being the worst-reviewed DreamWorks animated film. Madagascar generally got mediocre reviews and, though it made a healthy enough profit to spawn two sequels, did not have as much financial success as the first two Shrek films. The studio arguably hit its nadir in 2007 with Shrek the Third and Bee Movie disappointing at least critically, and Aardman breaking away from DreamWorks after the release of Flushed Away.

Beginning in 2008 however, the studio grew its beard with a new crop of films arising with a greater focus on story, characters, and quality. So far, this new direction has been paying off handsomely in the box office worldwide. For instance, not only was the classic Kung Fu Panda released, but Madagascar Escape 2 Africa marked the transition as that franchise moved from a hastily pre-emptive strike against Disney's The Wild to become a gradually improving series with its own voice.

Originally arch-rivals with Disney in the 1990s, they became arch-rivals with Pixar in the 2000s, and now they're kind-of sort-of arch-rivals with both studios in the 2010s. Disney alum Jeffrey Katzenberg produced more animated films through his studio alone than Walt Disney did when he was alive! While the quality of the films had been more inconsistent than Disney, the best of the bunch managed to reach for Disney and Pixar quality (with How to Train Your Dragon sharing a director team with Lilo & Stitch). In fact, in 2011, DWA exceeded them in critical reception with Kung Fu Panda 2 (RT 81%) and Puss in Boots (RT 84%) considered far and away superior films to Pixar's Cars 2 (RT 39%) and both were nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar while the Pixar film was shut out. Furthermore, KFP 2 out-grossed Cars 2 in the box office worldwide. In short, Katzenberg's dream had come true.


2012-2015: DreamWorks Animation expands to television, from Paramount to Fox, films fall hard

To bolster the company's revenues with meat and potatoes stuff, DWA acquired Classic Media, whose library contains rights to many classic cartoons, including most of the Filmation library (e.g. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe), the Gold Key properties that aren't owned by Random House, most of the old Famous Studios/Paramount characters, including the properties acquired by Harvey Comics like Casper the Friendly Ghost with their original ones like Richie Rich (excluding most of the Harvey superheroes, which are in the hands of their creators or their estates), the Entertainment Rights catalog including the intellectual property of Woodland Animations (Postman Pat and Charlie Chalk) and other British studios, the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials and most of their pre-1974 material (all the post-1974 R-B content, like ThunderCats (1985), is held by Warner Bros., as they acquired R-B alongside Lorimar-Telepictures in 1989), and Jay Ward's library, including Rocky and Bullwinkle, among others.

On the business side, the company's distribution contract with Paramount was not renewed at the end of 2012 as that company began getting back into animation itself after the success of Rango. DWA went to 20th Century Fox as its distributor from 2013 to 2017, which meant a balancing act with Blue Sky Studios' own animated films. Considering that DWA planned 12 films in four years, that had been quite a scheduling challenge. However, in that year they suffered their first serious box office sting in nearly a decade when Rise of the Guardians, their last film under the Paramount deal, underperformed financially despite warm critical reception, which caused the studio to lay off 25% of their worldwide staff at the end of the year.

In 2013, the studios' next film and their first at Fox, The Croods, proved a big sustained worldwide hit (with some decent critical reception), and the studio scored a great exclusive big time content deal with Netflix to help earn a steadier income so they didn't have primarily risk their solvency on feature films, though at the expense of their previous deal with HBO. Unfortunately, their next two films, Turbo and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, were box office disappointments despite having good critical reception (and both movies generating Internet-exclusive animated series).

In 2014, DWA acquired the distribution rights to all of its pre-2013 theatrical films from Paramount. The rights are currently licensed to 20th Century Fox in conjunction with the current distribution deal (which explains why Fox distributed recent DVD and Blu-ray rereleases of Shrek and Madagascar).

The studio's sole success in 2014 was the highly promising How to Train Your Dragon 2, which surpassed the total grosses of their four previous films (as well as its prequel). Their follow-up Penguins of Madagascar once again underperformed (although it grossed more than Turbo and Mr. Peabody & Sherman); these combined disappointments led DreamWorks to announce in early 2015 that they would be laying off 500 employees and reevaluating their core animation business - this included a smaller film schedule as well as the shuttering of Pacific Data Images. Around this time, Katzenberg sought to find a better partner for the studio, having tried to negotiate with two companies in 2014 for a sale. The Japanese corporation SoftBank and later the toy company Hasbro were interested in taking control of the studio, but both companies pulled out of negotiations after Katzenberg demanded a higher-than-average asking price from both companies. This made any prospect of a sale unlikely for the next two years.

Their sole release for 2015: Home, resulted a moderate success at the box office (it made back its budget domestically, which the studio's previous flops failed to do) and well-received by the public, but has received the lowest critical score for a DWA film since 2007.

The studio seemed to have entered a second Dork Age, ironically characterized by having good critical and audience reception but below-average box office grosses, the complete opposite of their 2004-2007 output.

In August 2015, DreamWorks Animation did something nobody expected: they launched a Western Animation network in Asia - The DreamWorks Channel, in partnership with CTH Thailand and apparently, HBO. The channel broadcasts in HD and airs mostly content from their DreamWorks Classics library, along with several series that had not yet been licensed out to other networks in the region (i.e. The Adventures of Puss in Boots, which is a Netflix-original and thus not available in the region outside of Japan otherwise), and they soon liberated the airing rights to Dragons: Riders of Berk from the latter in the region so that they could have it on their own network, though they expressed no interest in liberating The Penguins of Madagascar from Nickelodeonnote . Initially only available in Thailand, the channel was made available to and was quickly picked up by other Pay TV providers in South-East Asia in September 2015.

Incidentally, their decision to launch a western animation channel in Asia comes a year after NBC pulled out of the Joint Venture that is KidsCo in Asia and claiming that Asia has too many kids networks which caused the closure of said channel (NBC's wrong, on so many accounts), so DreamWorks clearly realized that there is still much demand in Asia for western animation, and is doing their part to fill the gap.

2015-present: Katzenberg's last stand, NBCUniversal takes over, beginning of new era

Unwilling to give up on his studio, Katzenberg appointed Bonnie Arnold, the producer of the How to Train Your Dragon series, and Mireille Soria, producer of the Madagascar series, as co-presidents of the studio's feature animation division. Hoping to get the studio out of its ongoing slump, the studio green-lit Kung Fu Panda 3, which was released in January 2016 and was the first film produced by their Chinese studio, Oriental DreamWorks. Despite being well-received and being a box office success, its financial impact was soon overshadowed by Disney's Zootopia two months later, and it would prove to be the last effort by Katzenberg to keep the studio independent.

In April 2016, DreamWorks Animation finally succeeded in reaching an acquisition deal, this time with Comcast, the parent company of media conglomerate NBCUniversalnote . Under Comcast's acquisition plan that is worth $3.8 billionnote , Katzenberg will retire as CEO of DWA and become chairman of the new DWA division DreamWorks New Media, who will oversee the studio's controlling interests in AwesomenessTV and the NOVA joint venture. Chris Meledandri, the head of Universal's feature animation wing Illumination Entertainment, will become the operations overseer of both studios, though the DreamWorks Animation imprint will remain separate from Illumination. The deal is expected to close by the end of 2016, pending regulatory approval. What this deal will mean for The DreamWorks Channel remains to be seen, but given NBCUniversal's screwing of Hallmark Channel Asia and KidsCo prior, and their belief about the Asian market for western animation in general, it cannot be bright (unless they somehow had learned from the past and improved their behavior).

See also DreamWorks, who despite the having the same name and being founded by the same group of people, has been a separate entity since 2004. However, when the DWA sale closes, both sides of DreamWorks will once again be united under one roof, since the live-action DreamWorks is now part of the Amblin Partners group, which is in a deal with Comcast/Universal that starts after the release of Disney/Amblin's The BFG.


List of subsidiaries and acquired franchises owned by DreamWorks Animation:

  • Oriental DreamWorks (45%)
  • DreamWorks Classics
    • Chapman Entertainment
    • Felix The Cat
  • The DreamWorks Channel (partnership with CTH Thailand and HBO)
  • Portley Ltd
  • Troll Dolls (Except in Scandanavia)
  • AwesomenessTV (75%)

DreamWorks' filmography:


Films in development:


Television work:


Live Action work (Through PDI; either prior or after the merger):


DreamWorks Classics properties:


Tropes for DreamWorks Animation:

  • Amplified Animal Aptitude
  • Arch-Competitor: DreamWorks was created to be this to Disney, but in the 2000s it became much more famous for its rivalry with Pixar.
  • Balloonacy: How that kid in the logo gets to the moon.
  • Be Yourself: Often very important in pushing the main characters before the climax.
  • Cash Cow Franchise: DreamWorks Animation was unique among animation studios at the time of its creation for being a studio dedicated entirely to turning every single one of their successful films into franchises, rather than (like Disney and Pixar) creating a series of one-off films. Every American animation studio created since DreamWorks - Blue Sky Studios, Sony Pictures Animation, Illumination Entertainment, etc. - have picked up this approach, and even Disney and Pixar have loosened their "no theatrical sequels, ever" policy because of it (the success of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen also contributed to this mentality for Disney/Pixar).
    • Stillborn Franchise: The unfortunate flip side of this approach of course means that every original DreamWorks film that bombs or disappoints at the box office will automatically become this.
  • Dance Party Ending: Popularized it in animated films.
  • Disneyesque: All their hand-drawn animated films.
  • Dreamworks Face: Trope Namer and Codifier.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, or Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron — if nothing else, for being cel animated instead of CGI.
  • Follow the Leader: Earlier on in their history, before they decided to go in a "light fantasy" direction to counter Pixar's more "epic" films, they were notorious for copying the template of whatever Pixar film was being developed at the same time.
    • While DreamWorks were copying Pixar, everyone else was copying DreamWorks (Disney even joined the fray for a few movies). Shrek in 2001 was followed by numerous imitators, and its template pretty much defined what "animated fairy tale" meant for the rest of the decade. And that's not to mention the number of copycat studios that were created after DreamWorks proved that non-Disney feature animation could be profitable, a few of which are still around today.
  • The Man in the Moon: In the new logo animation, that kid in the logo is part of the moon.
  • No Respect Guy: A common theme in DreamWorks movies are main characters who are treated as Butt Monkeys for being different or for seeing things in an unorthodox way, despite being relatively pleasant or rational in comparison to the other characters.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: A lot of the films with romance as main plot or sub-plot will often have one of the female characters falling for a decent guy.
  • Spam Attack: As early as 2004, DreamWorks had built a reputation for releasing animated movies quickly and frequently, with a release schedule of about two films a year. In 2009 they announced a plan to release three or four animated theatrical movies a year, twice as many per year as Disney and Pixar combined. In 2015 they abandoned this plan, only releasing one film in that year, and scheduling two movies per year for 2016 and beyond.
  • Strictly Formula: They have been accused of enforcing this trope in most of their CGI-animated movies during the 2000s: in the beginning, the main character is an outcast (or at the very least is "different"). Throughout the film he becomes a better person. In the end, he saves the day and everyone accepts him for who he is. Add bonus points for pop culture references, fart jokes and the occasional DreamWorks Face, and you're good to go.
  • Throw It In: A few of the background jokes (like the "Utah Teapot") in "Homer3" were added in by the companynote .
  • What Could Have Been: PDI (pre-Dreamworks) had plans for a feature-length CGI movie as early as 1985. It never happened due to money issues.

Alternative Title(s): Dreamworks Animation

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