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 beginningsKatzenberg'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 turn a profit, as did Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas which turned out to be the final nail in the coffin for 2D animation at DreamWorks. 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 and remained so for over a decade. 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 reboundPost-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 hardTo 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 the distribution and marketing rights to 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 were consequently licensed to 20th Century Fox in conjunction with their distribution deal.
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 predecessor). 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 (Softbank invested in Legendary Pictures instead, and Hasbro pulled out because they also had made a deal with Disney, who were not all that fond of the idea in the first place). This made any prospect of a sale unlikely for the next two years.
Meanwhile, DreamWorks continued to search for new ways to expand its entertainment offerings. In September 2013, DWA acquired the archives of UK animation studio Chapman Entertainment, giving it the rights to shows such as Fifi and the Flowertots and Roary The Racing Car. In June of 2014, it acquired all of the trademarks, associated copyrights and programming content of the Felix the Cat character from Felix the Cat Productions, run by the Oriolo family. These acquisitions, while profitable, failed to change the direction of the studio considerably.
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 was fairly 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 (although not on the same level as their 2008-2011 output) 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 NBCUniversal pulled out of the Joint Venture that is KidsCo in Asia. NBCU claimed it was due to "growing challenges in the international children's television industry", but most pin the blame on the company's purchase of the U.S-based preschool network Sprout from PBS.
2015-present: Katzenberg's last stand, NBCUniversal takes over, beginning of new eraUnwilling 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; 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 retired as CEO of DWA and became chairman of the new DWA division DreamWorks New Media, who oversees the studio's controlling interests in AwesomenessTV and the NOVA joint venture. The deal was finalized a few months later on August 22, 2016 (which is ironically two days before the 22nd anniversary of Katzenberg's departure from his pre-DWA ventures at Disney, and 5 weeks and 5 days before the 32nd anniversary of his first contact with Disney and the animation field). 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 attitude towards the Asian market for Western Animation in general, fingers will be crossed and fans will be watching closely on how this situation plays out.
Katzenberg's successor as CEO, former Warner Bros. animation president Christopher DeFaria, was appointed to the board five months after the completion, on January 10, 2017. Given his mixed track record at Warner with films ranging from Mad Max: Fury Road to Looney Tunes: Back in Action, it's safe to say that time will tell whether or not DreamWorks has a bright future ahead.
The acquisition also meant that Universal would have two animation studios under their belt, already owning Illumination Entertainment, the feature animation wing of Universal headed by Chris Meledandri, who also happens to be a Disney veteran from the early 90's. This puts Universal in a structure similar to Disney, who owns both their own animation studio and Pixar. Similarly, Universal Animation Studios, Universal's 2D animation arm that primarily operated during the 1990s (bringing us cult classics like Exosquad and Earthworm Jim), and still occasionally churns out a DTV sequel to The Land Before Time, also still operates independently (though as a husk of its former self). Universal officially took over distribution on February 2, 2018, beginning with reissuing the studio's libraries on DVD and Blu-ray.
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. With the buyout of the animation company, both sides of DreamWorks have once again been 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 (which later became a minority shareholder) that started 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%)
- Antz (with Pacific Data Images; 1998)
- The Prince of Egypt (1998)
- The Road to El Dorado (2000)
- Chicken Run (with Aardman Animations and Pathé; 2000)
- Joseph: King of Dreams (2000)
- Shrek (with Pacific Data Images; 2001)
- Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
- Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
- Shrek 4-D (short; with Pacific Data Images; 2003)
- Shrek 2 (with Pacific Data Images; 2004)
- Shark Tale (2004)
- Madagascar (with Pacific Data Images; 2005)
- The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (with Aardman Animations; 2005)
- Over the Hedge (2006)
- Flushed Away (with Aardman Animations; 2006)
- Shrek the Third (with Pacific Data Images; 2007)
- Bee Movie (2007)
- Kung Fu Panda (2008)
- Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (with Pacific Data Images; 2008)
- Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
- How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
- Shrek Forever After (with Pacific Data Images; 2010)
- Megamind (with Pacific Data Images; 2010)
- Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
- Puss in Boots (with Pacific Data Images and Moving Picture Company; 2011)
- Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (with Pacific Data Images; 2012)
- Rise of the Guardians (2012)
- The Croods (2013)
- Turbo (2013)
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman (with Bullwinkle Studios and Pacific Data Images; 2014)
- How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
- Penguins of Madagascar (with Pacific Data Images; 2014)
- Home (2015)
- Kung Fu Panda 3 (with Oriental DreamWorks; 2016)
- Trolls (2016)
- The Boss Baby (2017)
- Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (with Scholastic Entertainment and Mikros Image Canada; 2017)
Films in development:
- How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
- Abominable (2019)
- Trolls World Tour (2020)
- The Croods 2 (2020)
- The Boss Baby 2 (2021)
- Spooky Jack (2021; with Blumhouse Productions)
- Shrek 5 (TBA)
- Untitled Shadows Project (TBA)
- Flawed Dogs (adapted from a novel, TBA)
- The Bad Guys (adapted from a chapter book series, TBA)
- Bumper work for ABC, CBS, Cinemax, HBO, NBC, Rede Globo, VH1 and others (1983-early 90s, PDI)note
- The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror VI" segment "Homer3" (1995; PDI, with Rough Draft Studios)
- Cartoon Sushi (PDI; One segment: Gabola the Great)
- Toonsylvania (1998)
- Invasion America (1998; with AKOM)
- It's Thinking (1999; PDI, advertising campaign for the Sega Dreamcast)
- Alienators: Evolution Continues (with Columbia Pictures and DiC Entertainment)
- Father of the Pride (2004)
- The Penguins of Madagascar (2009)
- Neighbors From Hell (2010)
- Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (2011)
- Dragons: Riders of Berk (2012)
- Monsters vs. Aliens (2013)
- Turbo F.A.S.T. (2014; with Titmouse)
- VeggieTales in the House (2014)
- All Hail King Julien (2014)
- The Adventures of Puss in Boots (2015)
- Dragons: Race to the Edge (2015, continuation of Dragons: Riders of Berk)
- Dinotrux (2015)
- The New Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show (2015)
- Dawn of the Croods (2015)
- Voltron: Legendary Defender (2016)
- Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh (2016)
- Tales of Arcadia
- Noddy Toyland Detective (2016)
- VeggieTales In The City (2017, continuation of VeggieTales in the House)
- Spirit: Riding Free (2017)
- All Hail King Julien: Exiled (2017, continuation of All Hail King Julien)
- Dinotrux: Supercharged (2017, continuation of Dinotrux)
- Trolls: The Beat Goes On! (2018)
- The Boss Baby: Back in Business (2018)
- The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2018)
- Harvey Street Kids (2018)
- The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants (2018)
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018)
- Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny (2018)
- Fast & Furious: Spy Racers (TBA)
Live Action work (Through PDI; either prior or after the merger):
- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
- Angels in the Outfield
- The Arrival
- Batman Returns
- Batman Forever
- Batman & Robin
- Broken Arrow
- Bushwhacked (uncredited)
- Carlito's Way
- Dennis the Menace
- Double Dragon
- Executive Decision
- Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (Dream Demon Animation)
- Ghost (uncredited)
- Heart and Souls
- The Jim Henson Hour
- The Last Boy Scout (uncredited)
- The Mexican
- The videos for Michael Jackson's Black or White & Ghosts
- Minority Report
- Natural Born Killers
- The Peacemaker
- The River Wild
- RoboCop 3
- Rookie of the Year
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- Superman III (The video game sequences, done alongside Atari)
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- True Lies
- Various commercials for companies like Budweiser, Coca Cola and Exxon.
DreamWorks Classics properties:
- Filmation properties:
- Felix the Cat
- Godzilla (select films are under license from Toho)
- Guess with Jess (with Nelvana and The BBC)
- The 2002 He-Man series (under license from Mattel)
- Budgie the Little Helicopter
- Lamb Chop's Play-Along
- The Lone Rangernote
- Postman Pat
- Roger Ramjet
- Rupert Bear, Follow The Magic...
- Transformers Animated (TV distribution, under license from Hasbro)
- Where's Wally? (a.k.a. Where's Waldo? in the U.S.)
- Voltron (under license from World Events Productions)
- Bullwinkle Studios properties (with Jay Ward Productions):
- Chapman Entertainment properties (excluding Bob the Builder, owned by HIT Entertainment):
- Harvey Comics properties:
- Gold Key Comics/Dell Comics properties (merchandising and media assets only; publishing assets owned by Random House):
- United Productions of America (UPA) properties (excluding the UPA shorts produced for Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures, owned by Sony Pictures):
- Big Idea properties:
- Pre-1974 Rankin/Bass Productions properties:
- The Daydreamer (copyright only; currently licensed by StudioCanal)
- Frosty the Snowman note
- Here Comes Peter Cottontail
- The Jackson 5ive (with Motown)
- The Little Drummer Boy
- Mad Monster Party (copyright only; currently licensed by StudioCanal)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (program rights only) note
- Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town
- Tales of the Wizard of Oz
Tropes for DreamWorks Animation:
- Advertising by Association: Their movies are often advertised this way, referencing previous DreamWorks All CGI Cartoons, Shrek being usually one of them.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude
- DreamWorks was created to be this to Disney, but in the 2000s it became much more famous for its rivalry with Pixar.
- In the first half of the 2010's, they were briefly this to Illumination Entertainment, who shares very similar tropes to DreamWorks. When Universal snapped up DreamWorks, they became corporate siblings rather than rivals (à la Disney/Pixar).
- Artistic License – Astronomy: The post-2010 logo features the full moon waning into a crescent revealing the boy. In order to maintain the original "D" shape of the moon, this happens the opposite of how it would in real life; the moon always waxes and wanes from the right, not the left.
- Balloonacy: How that kid in the logo gets to the moon in the 2004-2010 logo.
- Be Yourself: Often very important in pushing the main characters before the climax.
- Dance Party Ending: Popularized it in animated films.
- Disneyesque: All their hand-drawn animated films.
- DreamWorks Face: Trope Namer and Codifier.
- Dueling Movies: A lot of their movies during the 2000s shared superficial similarities with Disney/Pixar movies that happened to be released roughly within a year of each other. (Antz to A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo to Shark Tale, etc.)
- 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. Both Egypt and Spirit also had a more personal involvement from Katzenberg himself (he wrote the story for Spirit), but after the latter's fall at the box office and him creating the infamous Father of the Pride (which was disowned by the end of the 2000's), he backed out of taking direct credits.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Takes this trope beyond Pixar levels in almost all of their films.
- The Man in the Moon: In the logo animation used since 2010, 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.
- Recycled: The Series: For the Netflix deal, each new movie is given a television series mainly a year later.
- Shifted to CGI: The first several animated films were mainly traditionally animated Disneyesque works. Starting with Shrek, the studio switched to exclusively making All CGI Cartoons. They don't have an interest in going back to 2D films. DreamWorks is a considered a (if not the) major reason why traditionally animated theatrical films stopped being popular in the early-to-mid 2000s.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: A lot of the films with romance as a main plot or a sub-plot will often have one or more of the female characters falling for a decent guy.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: All of the studios films learn more towards the idealistic end.
- 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 a grumpy or antisocial 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.
- Toilet Humour: DreamWorks has played with this trope very frequently, even dwarfing that of Pixar's use. They eventually started falling out of love with it by the late 2000's when audiences grew sick of it, though it still pops up occasionally.