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 Amblin Animation
shut down, most of its animators moved to DreamWorks.
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
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
'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.
, 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 an 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 has, of 2009, produced more animated films in his studio alone than Walt Disney
did when he was alive! While the quality of the films have been more inconsistent than Disney, the best of the bunch manage 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
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
outgrossed Cars 2
in the box office worldwide. In short, Katzenberg's dream has come true.
To bolster the company's revenues with meat and potatoes stuff, DWA has 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
, the Rankin/Bass
christmas specials, 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's getting back into animation itself after the success of Rango
while DWA will be going to 20th Century Fox
as its distributor from 2013 on, which will mean a balancing act with Blue Sky Studios
' own animated films. Considering that DA has planned 12 films in four years, that will be a quite a scheduling challenge. Even moreso due to how they laid off 25% of their worldwide staff at the end of 2012 after Rise Of The Guardians
failed to do well.
However, in 2013 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 don't have risk their solvency on primarily feature films. Unfortunately the studios next two films, Turbo
and Mr. Peabody & Sherman
, were box office disappointments despite having good critical reception (and generating an Internet-exclusive animated series for the former). Currently, the highly promising How to Train Your Dragon 2
has been a great success that has surpassed the total grosses of its prequel, Turbo
and Mr. Peabody & Sherman
, although its initial underperformance resulted in between 40-50 employee lay-offs
List of subsidiaries and acquired franchises owned by DreamWorks Animation:
- Oriental DreamWorks (45%)
- DreamWorks Classics
- Portley Ltd
- Troll Dolls (Except in Scandanavia)
- Awesomeness TV
- Chapman Entertainment
- Felix The Cat
Films in development:
- The Penguins of Madagascar (2014)
- Home (2015)
- B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations (2015)
- Kung Fu Panda 3 (2015)
- Boss Baby (working title) (2016)
- How to Train Your Dragon 3 (2016)
- Trolls (working title) (2016)
- Captain Underpants (2017)
- Mumbai Musical (working title) (2017)
- The Croods 2 (2017)
- Larrikins (2018)
- Madagascar 4 (working title) (2018)
- Puss in Boots 2: Nine Lives & 40 Thieves (2018)
Live Action work (Through PDI; either prior or after the merger):
DreamWorks Classics properties:
Tropes for DreamWorks Animation:
- Amplified Animal Aptitude
- Arch-Competitor: 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.
- Stillborn Franchise: The unfortunate flip side of this approach of course means that every 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.
- Strictly Formula: They have also 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.