By Kristopher Tapley Wednesday, Jun 4, 2014
DreamWorks Animation is celebrating a big year in 2014. While the studio's first theatrical release would not come until 1998, it was October 12, 1994 that saw the birth of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg's vision of a new movie studio, including, of course, Katzenberg's animation division.
That makes it 20 years of DreamWorks, and with the release of "How to Train Your Dragon 2" next week (on the heels of a Cannes debut last month), the studio is toasting two decades with one of the most elite installments of its entire portfolio.
That's a portfolio that is already 29 films deep, by the way, and it'll extend to 30 in November with the release of "The Penguins of Madagascar." There have been ups, there have been downs, but above all, an empire has been built.
So on the occasion of "Dragon 2," we thought maybe it was time we took a stab at ranking the whole of that empire, noting memorable moments from along the way. From 1998's "Antz" to this summer's highly anticipated sequel, see where your favorites might have ranked below.
And BEWARE: These are opinions. This is my (their) list. I'd be very curious to see what your list might look like, though, so feel free to tell us.
(Speaking of all of this, if you haven't read Nicole LaPorte's expert account of the rise and fall of DreamWorks, "The Men Who Would Be King," you're missing out on a hell of a story.)
Released: May 27, 2005
Directors: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
Voice cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter
How it stacks up: When "Madagascar" crossed the $500 million mark worldwide, Katzenberg and company had to know they had a new franchise on their hands, one with the potential to reach the heights of the "Shrek" brand. The film was more or less tolerated by critics, who had caught on to the pop culture gag game that DWA was grooming as its "thing." But what kept it afloat was a distinctive animation style and a smattering of interesting supporting characters that stole the show from the movie stars leading the voice cast. Indeed, Andy Richter and friends got a spin-off television series as the film's delightfully conniving penguins and a feature film to boot (coming to a theater near you this November).
Memorable momentMemorable moment: "Knights," a spin on television's "Cops" — with its fresh ground pepper instead of mace, confiscated catnip and "a white bronco heading east into the forest" — is kind of hard to top.
: There's nothing wrong with a little corporate synergy, and DreamWorks got just that with a fantasy sequence right out of the studio's own 1999 Best Picture winner "American Beauty," fit with Thomas Newman score accompaniment and, well, steaks instead of rose petals. (It was Stiller's lion Alex who was doing the fantasizing, after all.)
17. "RISE OF THE GUARDIANS"
Released: Nov. 21, 2012
Director: Peter Ramsey
Voice cast: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Khamani Griffin, Kamil McFadden
How it stacks up: On paper, "Rise of the Guardians" looks like a winner through and through. A screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist David Lindsay-Abaire based on a book by celebrated author and illustrator William Joyce about a team of nightly childhood "Guardians" (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.)? Sounds like a solid hit. Director Guillermo Del Toro and cinematographer Roger Deakins were even involved as part of their on-going deals with the studio. Alas, the film was a financial disappointment, yielding an $80 million write-down and a number of layoffs. It would also be the final DreamWorks film distributed by Paramount Pictures after a seven-year collaboration. Beautifully animated as it is, there is just something stagnant about it, the wonder of its characters and premise muddied in translation.
Memorable moment: As Law's villainous Pitch Black descends on our heroes with a wave of nightmares, a young boy finds the courage to believe in this boogey man, but to not fear him, a faith that resurrects the previously extinguished Sandman and gives the Guardians the strength to claim victory.
10. "SHREK 2"
Released: May 19, 2004
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon
Voice cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders
How it stacks up: The impact of "Shrek 2," even with the success of the 2001 original, couldn't have been anticipated. At the box office, the film shot past "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" to claim, at the time, a spot among the top five highest domestic grossers ever. It also remains the only DWA film to cross the $800 million mark worldwide (settling just north of $900 million). And the studio had mostly delivered, crafting a sequel worthy of its predecessor, one that some even consider the franchise's high water mark. It does, however, lack the original's effortless heart, straining often to get where it's going. But it's expertly rendered. And it was also our introduction to Banderas' Puss in Boots, who would get his own spin-off film seven years later.
5. "KUNG FU PANDA"
Released: June 6, 2008
Directors: John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
Voice cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Michael Clarke Duncan
How it stacks up: "Kung Fu Panda" arrived as DreamWorks' most aesthetically dazzling film to date (at the time) in the summer of 2008. Free of the pop culture bubble gum, leaning on the personality of its principal cast and eye-popping imagery that was unlike anything else in the DWA canon, the film didn't have anything too deep to say but it wowed with technique. It was also the beginning of a promising new franchise for the studio, one that, again, is expected to extend six chapters. Whether it gets that far or can maintain at this level for that long, we'll have to see, but it got started off on the right foot.
McShane's evil snow leopard Tai Lung escapes from prison in a marvelous sequence, fit with the arresting image of a torrent of crimson arrows raining down upon the villain as he leaps for cover.
3. "CHICKEN RUN"
Released: June 21, 2000
Directors: Peter Lord and Nick Park
Voice cast: Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth, Timothy Spall, Phil Daniels, Lynne Ferguson, Imelda Staunton
How it stacks up: DreamWorks' early partnership with Aardman yielded precious fruit in the form of this, the studio's most critically-acclaimed animated feature to date. Setting a chicken coop escape odyssey as a sort of POW action/adventure, the legendary Lord/Park collaboration (in their first feature endeavor after years of exemplary shorts) yielded one of the best films of 2000. It's is packed with wit, wonder and, of course, brilliant technical prowess, featuring a truly organic ensemble performance from its voice cast that sets it apart from most of the DreamWorks canon.Memorable moment: In an exciting action sequence, Gibson's cocky red rooster Rocky and Sawalha's crafty chicken Ginger escape the various mechanical clutches of a chicken pot pie machine, closing with a last-second hat grab worthy of Indiana Jones.