Friday 9 December 2011

At DreamWorks, The Dream Works

DreamWorks Animation Studios is a name and a company that will likely garner mixed responses. Its films are often accused of being cheesier, cheaper and more rushed; it’s always playing second fiddle to Pixar. Then again, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Pixar is the greatest animation studio of the past few decades; it took over when Disney faltered, as the crème de la crème of animation. Narrowly following this is a hard act, yet one DreamWorks seems to have managed over the years, with improvements hitting us all the time.

Also, let us not forget that DreamWorks were awarded the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature back in 2001, for Shrek, which still remains one of their finest films, trumping Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. in the process – not an easy feat.

So, how did DreamWorks get this reputation for being a far cruder, far less emotionally poignant, wannabe version of Pixar? To be honest, I don’t think they have this reputation anymore, but the main reason is likely the way they rush a lot of their films, in the past anyway. There are a few DreamWorks films that I love on par with any other film – Pixar, animated or otherwise –, those being Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2; they were witty, smart, funny and, more importantly, genuinely touching and heart warming. However, we also have a series of, maybe not great, but solidly fun and entertaining films, such as Monsters vs. Aliens and Megamind. The problem, however, with their reputation lies in the large portion of their films that are just mediocre filler.

A lot of the DreamWorks canon is unmemorable, dull, crude or just plain pointless; Bee Movie, Shark Tale, Over the Hedge and Shrek the Third are four films that I just consider plain bad, they were cringe worthily terrible, the characters felt unformed, the scripts felt unfinished and the animation looked unpolished. Similarly, films like Madagascar and Shrek 4 felt like they had potential and, while they were fun, they felt like DreamWorks, in their desire to make money, had rushed the production, loaded them full of stupid pop-culture gags and references and crude “edgy” humour.

The effect on the studio of its CEO, former Disney head honcho, Jeffrey Katzenberg, usually provides some form of consternation for animation aficionados. Katzenberg has a reputation for being unreasonable and micromanaging, insisting on 'edge', and making it difficult to make a resonant, warm film. However, let us not forget that he is one of the largest factors behind the Disney Renaissance, without which, Disney may not be what it is today still, it may have not been able to buy Pixar and the entire landscape of animation history would be different. Jeff Katzenberg is an animation visionary and without him, DreamWorks wouldn't be what it is, for good and bad; yes we can attribute blame to him, but we must also attribute rapturuous acclaim.

But, there is no arguing, DreamWorks is a fantastic studio. Specifically in recent years, the studio has been, more and more, refining their films, fine tuning the story and its characters and focusing on genuine emotions, and it shows. Over the last two years, DreamWorks have released two of my favourite animated films of all time: How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2. Both were definitely ‘Pixar quality’, and can easily be considered some of the best films in recent memory. The studio is riding a curve upwards at the moment, they are on a major roll, Puss in Boots (review up this weekend) is supposed to be a pretty solid and entertaining film from the studio, and films like The Croods sound like they’ll be a great way to keep the current tradition going.

DreamWorks produce, more so now than ever, warm, touching, very funny and witty animated films that the whole family can truly enjoy. They are the second best animation studio around, and, particularly after the last couple of years, it should be very proud of that.


  1. how would you say puss in boots was in relation to what you have said about dreamworks films here

  2. I loved Puss in Boots, it was a great film. I wouldn't rank it on par with How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda 2, as the two finest DreamWorks films, but it's definitely near the top.
    Around Megamind level, good film, not quite brilliant.