DreamWorks Animation is a major American animation studio founded by Steven Spielberg, former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, and music David Geffen in 1994 that is best known for films such as its Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon series. Financially their films have alternated between highly successful hits and costly flops which have undermined their ability to remain independent. As DreamWorks Animation became increasingly aware of the unpredictable nature of relying on big film releases, in 2013 they signed a deal with Netflix to provide them with cartoon series material for their service in territories such as America and Europe while also broadcasting this on The DreamWorks Channel in Asia. Yet this was not enough to secure their independence. In April 2016 NBC Universal bought DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion1. Although the studio's founder Jeffrey Katzenberg remained head of DreamWorks New Media, the studio was now controlled by Illumination's CEO Chris Meledandri. NBC Universal hoped that the popularity of DreamWorks Animation particularly in China, a country emerging as a more important financial market than the United States, would be beneficial especially as they were constructing a Universal Studios theme park in Beijing.
A list of the films that DreamWorks Animation made between 2015 and 2019 is listed below. Also mentioned is whether the films pass the Bechdel Test. This can be summarised as whether the film involves two or more female characters who have a conversation together that does not focus on men in general or specific male characters.
31. Home (2015)
|Plot||Earth has been invaded! A cowardly species of aliens called the Boov who are led by Captain Smek abduct everyone and take them to Australia. One girl, Gratuity 'Tip' Tucci, is left behind in America, where she encounters an outcast Boov called Oh. The Boov are hiding from a fierce alien called the Gorg who wishes to kill them all, but Oh may have inadvertently informed the Gorg where they are. Will they unite to search for Tip's mother and prevent the destruction of the Earth?|
|Setting||21st Century Earth, particularly America, Paris and Australia|
|Inspiration||The True Meaning of Smekday (2007) by Adam Rex|
|Logo||The boy in the moon is abducted and replaced by Oh|
An eccentric and visually unique take on the story of an unlikely friendship between two quite different characters. The film is full of other science-fiction film references and Jim Parsons excels as Oh, despite the unusual hit-and-miss dialogue he is given. That the film's star character is a (reasonably) realistic non-white female is also a positive step hinting at hopefully more diversity in DreamWorks Animation's films in the future.
32. Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
|Directors||Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni|
|Plot||While Po is finally reunited with his father, Li Shan, who believed he had been killed as a baby, trouble is afoot in the spirit realm. Grand Master Oogway's former friend Kai has learnt how to steal people's spirits or Chi, stealing their abilities and turning them into Jade zombies. Having defeated Oogway, Kai returns to the mortal realm seeking revenge. Learning that only a true master of Chi is able to defeat Kai, Li Shan promises to teach Po all about Chi in his secret panda village but in truth knows nothing of Chi, wishing only to keep Po safe. When this village is threatened and all Po's friends have been turned into zombies, how can Po defeat Kai?|
|Setting||Spirit Realm, Valley of Peace and secret Panda Village, Ancient China|
|Music||Composed by Hans Zimmer|
|Others in the Series|
|Bechdel Test||Narrow Pass|
|Logo||Po struggles up a flight of stairs to reach the moon|
Kung Fu Panda 3 was co-produced with DreamWorks Animation and Oriental DreamWorks, a company partnered with Chinese film companies based in Shanghai that had been created to open up the potentially lucrative Chinese market. This was formed when DreamWorks purchased Chinese animation studio 37 Entertainment and received investment from China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment to become one of the few western companies able to import Western films into China. Approximately a third of the film was made in China. This meant that the film was allowed to be shown in China, which was its biggest audience, making more money there than in the United States.
Kung Fu Panda 3 was the fourth most successful animated film of the year, behind Pixar's Finding Dory, Disney's Zootopia, Illumination Entertainment's The Secret Life of Pets.
33. Trolls (2016)
|Directors||Mike Mitchell & Walt Dohrn|
|Plot||The Trolls are small, happy creatures that spend their time singing, dancing and hugging. Their large neighbours, the Bergen, are miserable creatures who believe that the only way they have happiness inside them is by eating a troll. 20 years after the Trolls escaped the Bergen some of Princess Poppy's closest friends are captured. She embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue them accompanied by the only troll who does not like to sing, dance or hug and is befriended by Bergen scullery maid Bridgit, who is in love with the Bergen king.|
|Setting||Troll Village and nearby Bergen Town and Castle|
|Logo||A scrapbook version of the logo|
Insanely happy musical film full of songs and dance with the important underlying message that cannibalism doesn't create happiness that successfully reinvents the Dam Troll dolls invented by Thomas Dam in 1959. The story is similar in places to Chicken Run, with the idea that a female protagonist wishes to profit by cooking the heroes, yet this does not detract from the film at all. There is even a nod to the fact that the story is based on a toy range.
Trolls was the ninth most successful animated film of the year, behind Pixar's Finding Dory, Disney's Zootopia, Illumination Entertainment's The Secret Life of Pets, DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda 3, Disney's Moana, Blue Sky's Ice Age: Collission Course, Illumination's Sing and Columbia's The Angry Birds Movie. A sequel, Trolls World Tour, was released in 2020.
34. Boss Baby (2017)
|Plot||Seven year old Timothy Templeton has an ideal life with his loving parents, who work for Puppy Co, until he is told he has a baby brother. Jealous he no longer receives any love or attention, he discovers that the baby can talk and is in his house on a mission from Baby Corp to discover what Puppy Co's plans are to ensure that people love puppies more than babies. Tim and the Boss Baby agree to work together so that the Boss Baby can complete his mission successfully, which will allow him to leave Timothy's house for ever.|
|Setting||21st Century America|
|Inspiration||The books by Marla Frazee, The Boss Baby (2010) & The Bossier Baby (2016)|
|Music||Composed by Hans Zimmer|
|Logo||A baby mobile|
An enjoyable film based on the simple idea of having a baby talking like a managerial adult. While it is clear at all times exactly where the film is heading, this doesn't matter as the journey is so enjoyable and the use of 'Blackbird', one of Sir Paul McCartney's finest compositions, is particularly emotional. Wizzie the Gandalf alarm clock is by far the finest alarm clock in animation history, and is a reminder how actor Miles Christopher Bakshi is the grandson of Ralph Bakshi, who directed the phenomenal animated The Lord of the Rings (1979).
35. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)
|Plot||Best friends at school George Beard and Harold Hutchins regularly draw comics and play pranks at school to bring joy to their classmates, which is otherwise forbidden by their head, Principal Krupp. Their best comic creation is a hero named Captain Underpants. When Krupp plans to separate them into different classes they hypnotise Krupp into thinking he is Captain Underpants, however whenever he gets wet he reverts to being Krupp. Meanwhile the school has a new science teacher, Professor P, who has a mad scheme to rid the world of laughter.|
|Setting||Jerome Horrowitz Elementary School, America, 21st Century|
|Inspiration||Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey (1997+)|
|Logo||Hummed by George and Harold who show their comics' logo too, Tree House Comix|
This was the last film DreamWorks Animation made that was distributed by 20th Century Fox, though released after DreamWorks Animation was acquired by Universal Pictures. It has a much simpler, cheaper animation style that is quite different to other DreamWorks Animation films, yet it is stylised and similar to Pilkey's novel's artwork. The animation was outsourced to independent animation studios Mikros Image in Canada and Technicolor Animation Productions in France while DreamWorks Animation was restructured.
Jerome Horrowitz, the name of the school, was the name of Curly from The Three Stooges and the film was influenced by the films of John Hughes.
The film was DreamWorks Animation's lowest grossing since Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas in 2003. It was the ninth most successful animated film of the year, behind Illumination's Despicable Me 3, Pixar's Coco, DreamWorks Animation's The Boss Baby, Pixar's Cars 3, Warner Bros' The Lego Batman Movie, Blue Sky's Ferdinand and even behind both Sony Pictures Animation films, The Emoji Movie and Smurfs: The Lost Village. The poor performance may possibly be explained as since 1997 the Captain Underpants series has been the most complained-about book series in American libraries due to the unrelenting, explicit toilet humour content. Consequently, of the three films DreamWorks Animation had in production to release in 2018, only How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World avoided being cancelled and was delayed until 2019 instead, leaving 2018 the first year since 1999 in which no DreamWorks Animation film was released.
36. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
|Plot||Following threats from notorious Dragon Hunter Grimmel, who wants to make Night Fury dragons extinct, Hiccup decides that the people of Berk need to leave their island home and find somewhere safe where they can live with their dragons away from the rest of the world. He searches for the mythical Hidden World, a subterranean lost world at the edge of the world where dragons are said to have originally come from. His Night Fury dragon Toothless meets a female and potential mate for the very first time, yet she is intended to be a lure to help Grimmel capture all of the dragons and complete his quest to kill every last Night Fury.|
|Setting||Viking island of Berk, one year after How to Train Your Dragon 2|
|Inspiration||The books by Cressida Cowell|
|Others in the Series|
|Logo||New variation on the logo to reflect Universal's ownership|
This was the first DreamWorks Animation film to be released under new owners Universal Pictures. A return to form, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was the fourth most successful animated film of the year2 behind Disney's Frozen II, Pixar's Toy Story 4 and China's Beijing Enlight Pictures film Ne Zha. How to Train Your Dragon is the first animated series in which all three films have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, although none of the series have actually won.
Following accusations of sexual assault and making fake bomb threats, TJ Miller was dropped from the voice cast and Justin Rupple was recast as Tuffnut.
37. Abominable (2019)
|Directors||Jill Culton with Todd Wilderman|
|Plot||Teenage Yi lives in a Shanghai tower block with her mother and grandmother, keeping busy since the death of her violinist father and desperately trying to raise enough money to go on the adventure her father had planned for the family. She discovers a magical Yeti, whom she names Everest, on the roof of the block and along with her neighbours Jin and Peng go on an adventure to return him home to Mount Everest. However they are pursued by Burniush, Dr Zara and goons who will stop at nothing to recapture the Yeti.|
|Setting||China and the Himalayas in 21st Century, between Shanghai and Mount Everest|
|Co-Production With||Pearl Studio|
|Characters||Music||Composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, with Coldplay's 'Fix You'|
|Logo||Painting-like made up of wisps of clouds.|
A visually impressive film with a predictable plot, it was the first film co-produced with the newly-independent Pearl Studio. This had been Oriental DreamWorks, DreamWorks' Chinese animation studio but in 2018 NBC Universal sold Oriental DreamWorks to avoid a Chinese anti-trust investigation. The Chinese government thought that the American-controlled Oriental DreamWorks was potentially too influential and threatened to dominate the Chinese market, despite having only released one film, Kung Fu Panda 3.
The film proved controversial as a brief scene at the start shows a map of China in the background which shows China's 'Nine-Dash Line'. This is a line showing how much of the South China Sea that China lays claim to despite the United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea's definition of what constitutes China's territorial waters, and so the film was banned in Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, countries whose territorial waters China claims with this line.
Abominable was the ninth most successful animated film of the year4 behind Disney's Frozen II, Pixar's Toy Story 4, China's Beijing Enlight Pictures film Ne Zha, DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Illumination's The Secret Life of Pets 2, United Artist's The Addams Family, CoMix Wave and Toho's Weathering with You, and Warner Bros' The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. This was despite the comparatively similar films Warner's Smallfoot (2018) and Laika's Missing Link (2019).
The 2010s ended with DreamWorks animation having regained a strong position in the animation marketplace as part of NBC Universal's media empire, yet the small degree of controversy with a Chinese-themed film was perhaps a foretaste of things to come. The following year the Covid-19 virus brought a deadly challenge no-one foresaw that disrupted the entire way of life of people all around the world. Universal NBC's response, to heavily promote home online video streaming instead of cinema, would cause controversy and calls for boycotts with cinema owners and question the very relationship between films and cinemas in the challenging years ahead.