My research into a future genre analysis resulted in finding a very interesting article on an interview Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg did with Empire back in 2010, found here.
It’s short and to the point, but if you don’t care to read, I’ll summarize: Dreamworks plans four Shrek films, four Madagascar films, three How to Train Your Dragon films, and six, yes six, Kung Fu Panda films.
Some disclaimers. Katzenberg is a bit of a controversial character. Let’s just say people think the Hollywood “studio system” ended in the 60s due to antimonopoly laws, but…that’s sometimes not true. Next, when I read this article I did not immediately roll my eyes at how horrible it is for a studio to try to suck so much money out of their franchises. My eyes widened, but they didn’t roll. Why? Because Dreamworks Animation rocks. Shrek was fantastic, and while they didn’t quite live up with Shrek 2/3, I feel Forever After brought a solid, fitting conclusion to the saga.
The history of animated feature films is pretty interesting, but I won’t go into it much. Suffice to say Dreamworks Animation is built around an animation company founded near the same time as Pixar’s animation. Even though it was the 90s, it seems forever ago that Toy Story came out. Dreamworks’ first animated feature film? Antz in 1998, and it beat A Bug’s Life by several months, so that settles that. I like both. Dreamworks Animation has also given us The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Chicken Run, and Shark Tale. All are great, in my opinion.
Now 2008 was somewhat of a turning point in the company’s history. Computer-generated feature films weren’t new. It had already completed three Shrek films, Over the Hedge, Monsters vs Aliens, Madagascar, Bee Movie, and Megamind. Take note, again, that I’ve yet to mention a bad film. Sure, these probably aren’t your favorite animated films of all time, but Dreamworks doesn’t disappoint. They may not be #1, but you never leave the theater regretting the ticket price. Especially with the family viewing experience – I can recount owning most of these films on VHS or DVD.
2008, though, brought both Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape to Africa. Here’s the significance. Pixar built itself a reputation of releasing one stellar film each summer (starting in 2012 they will be expanding into summer and fall releases). Beyond this, Pixar didn’t (note the past tense) do sequels. Toy Story 2 was still the exception back then. By not only releasing a sequel to another franchise but also releasing a new film with obvious franchise material, Dreamworks was making a stand.
The plan was a success. Not only have both Kung Fu Panda films and both Madagascar films been huge successes (along with the conclusion to their Shrek franchise), but their newest franchise How to Train Your Dragon was successful commercially and critically. I’ve yet to see Kung Fu Panda 2, which I look forward to, but as a note it is the most box office successful film ever directed by a female and the first animated feature to be solely directed by a female. Not wholly relevant, but a cool factoid.
Dreamworks doesn’t stop there. They’re a business, after all. They know how to monetize. First there’s the TV specials and short films they produce and usually tack on to the DVD/Blu-Ray releases for their features. This is standard enough. Then there’s the television programs. We’ve all probably heard of/seen the Madagascar penguin show on Nickelodeon, but apparently (I was unaware of this as my access to television is restricted to my laptop) Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness started airing on Nick this month, and the internet tells me (my sources cite Nickelodeon as the source) that 52 episodes have already been ordered and produced. Oh, don’t forget the deals Dreamworks signed with Nick for a Monsters vs Aliens show and with Cartoon Network for a How to Train Dragons show. And all of this is only related to their current franchises!
This article is turning into a profile on Dreamworks Animation, which is partly the point. I think when people think Animation they jump too quickly to Pixar and forget other, arguably more successful overall, competitors. I both hope to enlighten and amaze with just how much of our pop culture since 2008 has been given to us by Dreamworks. Unlike Pixar, they know how to capture both the silver screen and the living room screen. The success of Puss in Boots as a way to continue the Shrek franchise is still being determined, but here’s what Dreamworks Animation has planned for 2012: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and Rise of the Guardians (not the owl guardians; it’s another novel series – so, another possible franchise). Let’s get back to the article in question, though.
Four Madagascar films, ok. There were four Shreks, for better or worse. I’m not completely sure what’s wrong with the trilogy format, but sometimes having a fourth film is fun. Likewise, three in the Dragon series is understandable. It’s based on an eight-novel series, so there’s plenty of material to work with. And again, I expect all of these films to be solid, entertaining, animated family flicks. Dreamworks has yet to disappoint and I don’t expect them to anytime soon.
Then there’s Kung Fu Panda. Now, I really loved the first one and look forward to seeing the sequel when it releases on Blu-Ray. But…six?! I say it skeptically only because…I mean…geez. That’s a lot of films that requires a lot of storylines, and audiences rarely hold attention to a group of characters for that long. Star Wars only worked because there was a huge hiatus between the prequels and each featured different characters. A Kung Fu Panda six-film saga would be, presumedly, the same characters. Now, the world is ripe with stories, so they could probably create them if they needed to, but logistically there are even greater problems here.
Changing voice actors for any of the major characters would be a no-no because that’s who we expect in the role. There’s also a matter of how long this plan would play out. Right now, Dreamworks is presumedly working on the third but it wouldn’t be released until, most likely, 2014. That’s six years for three films. How do you think audiences would react in 2020 if Dreamworks Animation is still releasing Kung Fu Panda 6: INSERT SUBTITLE HERE?
As I prefaced earlier, I’m not against the idea from the start. I really enjoy this series and it’s been very successful both critically and commercially. Notably, the series is well loved in China where it’s kung fu-homages are origin (that’s the research that brought me to this article). I’m just…skeptical of it happening. And it’s very likely not to. Katzenberg likes to talk, and this interview is from 2010 before the release of the sequel. That sequel was highly successful, but plans still change, and considering the broad palette of projects on Dreamworks’ plate, their plans probably shift quite often.
What are your thoughts on all of this? What do you think of Dreamworks’ animated films and how do they compare to Pixar? More so, what do you think about all of this film franchise creating and the possibility that the trilogy-standard may be slowly growing old.