One major difference between Disney and DreamWorks animation is the humour.
Disney *though phenomenally creative* will almost always play it safe when it comes to comedy, whereas DreamWorks will take more risks – potty humour, adult humour, topical pop culture references, and just-plain-wacky humour. As a consequence, a lot of it falls flat. Not every audience member will agree on what is funny, especially when it comes to entertainment that is meant to be enjoyed by children as well. THAT BEING SAID, I respect DreamWorks’ willingness to take risks, and sometimes they hit it out of the park.
For instance, they have yet to misstep when it comes to their How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and Despicable Me franchises, and arguably the less-loved/underrated Rise of the Guardians and Monsters vs. Aliens ones, too. Shrek started to go downhill during the later instalments, but I think we all remember how brilliant it was at the beginning. (The first two had Disney quite hot beneath the collar, and in my opinion, forced the improvement of the genre, thus saving animation in their own right. It’s a medium that has to keep evolving, and I think Shrek played a huge part in that.) Same with the Ice Age and Madagascar films. Though they’ve been run into the ground, and the plots have become more contrived and predictable, the reasons behind their popularity are easy enough to understand.
Then, there are the smaller franchises that never really made it off the ground, and of course, the spin-offs. Of the former group, the largest titles that come to mind are Megamind, Bee Movie, the 2013 stand-alones (The Croods, Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman), and the 2D titles from the late ’90s/early 2000s (Prince of Egypt, Road to El Dorado, Spirit, Sinbad). It is easy to see why these films, though brilliant, offer few opportunities for expansion. The spin-offs, however, is where I think the future of DreamWorks could either be made or broken.
Last year, Netflix released a series dedicated to the asinine lemur-king, King Julian, and though it seemed to generate relatively little buzz, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. I just watched the first episodes of The Adventures of Puss in Boots, Netflix’s new show which was just released on January 16, 2015, and is centered around the titular feline of Shrek fame, whose popularity has already been acknowledged in one semi-successful (and in my opinion, pretty darn good) movie. The Penguins of Madagascar have had a successful tv series running on Nickelodeon since 2008, not to mention a film that was released in theaters last November – and, just a quick aside, is Benedict Cumberbatch just in *everything* now?? – which brought in decent box office revenues/reviews. Counting the straight-to-tv/DVD holiday specials and shorts featuring their more central characters, DreamWorks has proven that they know how to make the most of episodic storytelling mechanisms, perhaps even more so than Disney, (whose Pixar Shorts and Sofia the First are the closest things the company has to bringing their big screen characters to the small screen with any sort of commercial success).
Taking into account the improving quality standards of television, with shows like Game of Thrones even achieving such cinematic appeal as to be screened in actual movie theaters, this may be the perfect time for DreamWorks to invest heavily in children’s comedy television. With their bizarre, yet lovable characters, and fearless propensity for risk-taking, DreamWorks could seriously take command of the children’s television genre, and parlay that into future theatrical success. I, for one, am in favour of any move that will ultimately benefit the art-form of animation.
And who wouldn’t want to watch a Rise of the Guardians or How To Train Your Dragon tv show??