Sunday, 3 April 2016

Top 5: Dreamworks Films

With Kung Fu Panda 3 currently romping through cinemas, I thought it was time to took a look back at Dreamworks Animations rich history and handpick five of their greatest offerings to date.

They’re a studio that have taken some risks over the years, from surprisingly dark stop-motion flicks about chicken coops to more mediocre kid-friendly fare; honestly, the less said about Bee Movie or Shark Tale the better.

But more often than not, this experimentation has paid off – how many other studios could make a movie about a superfast snail work? So, with that in mind, here are our picks for the best Dreamworks Animation movies so far…

5. Puss in Boots (2011)

Director: Chris Miller
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifinakis 

Eager to capitalise on the success of the Shrek series and its astoundingly popular supporting character, Dreamworks commissioned a spin-off prequel that focused solely on Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) – and the finished product gave even the most cynical audience members paws for thought.

Charting Puss’ swashbuckling origin story prior to Shrek 2, the film sees our feline hero join forces with the seductive Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) to steal a precious golden egg from a giant’s castle. Along for the ride are Zach Galifinakis as Humpty Dumpty as well as Billy Bob Thronton and Amy Sedaris as gruesome outlaws Jack and Jill.

The playful action sequences and cheeky sense of humour ensure that Puss doesn’t outstay his welcome; with the chemistry between Banderas and his Hayek giving the film some much needed sparkle. It doesn’t have the same depth as some of Dreamworks’ more mature features, but the breezy screenplay and witty dialogue steered Puss in Boots towards a Best Animated Feature Academy Award nomination, only to lose out to Gore Verbinski’s kooky Western Rango.

4. Shrek 2 (2004)

Directors: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Ashbury, Conrad Vernon
Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz

A satirical spin on childhood fairy tales, the Shrek franchise is one of the more surprising success stories of Dreamworks’ filmography, with the second entry from 2004 remaining the most consistently entertaining and humorous.

Bigger and bolder than the original, Shrek 2 sees the unlikely trio of heroes, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (an insatiable Eddie Murphy) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz), venture off to a land called Far Far Away to meet the in-laws. What follows is a clever jab at Hollywood itself, with Far Far Away closely resembling Los Angeles and all the satirical silliness that comes with it. Joining the cast is John Cleese and Julie Andrews as the King and Queen, whilst Jennifer Saunders and Rupert Everett practically steal the show as the Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming respectively.

Riffing on everything from The Wizard of Oz to Mission Impossible, Shrek 2 is literally bursting with pop culture references that people of all ages can appreciate. Besting them all however is Antonio Banderas as the voice of Puss in Boots, an on-the-nose Zorro parody that is equal parts adorable and ferocious – and popular enough to warrant a spin-off sequel all of his own in 2011.

3. How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett

It’s no surprise that The Empire Strikes Back provided pivotal inspiration for director Dean DeBlois when he was conceptualising How To Train Your Dragon 2. Right down to the bittersweet ending that hits you where it hurts, this is everything you want from a successful sequel; it’s broader in scope, deeper in an emotional sense and braver in a storytelling one. It expands the universe and drives the narrative forward, rather than resting on its laurels. Simply put, it’s one of the finer follow-ups you’ll find in not just animation, but filmmaking as a whole.

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins once again provided his expertise as a visual consultant on the film, and his distinctive fingerprints are everywhere in the finished product. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a remarkably gorgeous animated film, with the inventive character and creature designs wonderfully contrasted against luscious backdrops inspired by Norwegian fiords and Viking myths. The way that Dreamworks harnesses light and dark in this film really gives the action a sense of texture and realism, even though they’re just images spat out of a computer.

Plus, the voice work is brilliant – along with returning cast members like Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler, Aussie superstar Cate Blachett joins the cast as Hiccup’s long-lost mother whilst Game of Thrones alumni Kit Harington plays against type as a dastardly villain.

2. Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Director: John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman

With the third entry just a few days away, Dreamworks’ first Kung Fu Panda film from 2008 remains a memorable high point for the studio.

Set in a version of ancient China populated with talking animals, the film centres on a bumbling panda named Po (Jack Black) who discovers that he is destined to become the fearless Dragon Warrior, a legendary kung-fu master who can bring peace and prosperity to all China.

Whilst the all-star cast (Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross) helps bring the furry characters to life, it’s the luscious animation and graphical flair that sets Kung Fu Panda apart. Dreamworks successfully meld bright kid-friendly colours with interesting visual traits that pay homage to the Chinese setting and kung-fu cinemas rich history. It’s a treat for both children and adults, containing a perfect mixture of goofy slapstick and wry comedy that older audiences will appreciate.

1. How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson

Many detractors would argue that Dreamworks has always lived in the shadow of their superior Pixar cousins, and 'til a few years ago that statement would’ve been absolutely true.

However, all of that changed when How To Train Your Dragon came along; based on the book series by Cressida Cowell, Dragon is Dreamworks’ undisputed modus operandi, a delightful coming-of-age tale that sees the studio match Pixar classics like Toy Story and Finding Nemo for quality.

The film revolves around a timid young Viking boy named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and the pressures he faces as the only son of Stoick (Gerard Butler), the imposing chieftain of their tribe. In this fantasy realm, Vikings and dragons are natural enemies, so Hiccup’s decision to secretly befriend and nurse an injured dragon, Toothless, back to health threatens his tribe’s entire way of life.

The touching narrative hits familiar beats, but it’s the surprising sensitivity with which Dreamworks handles Hiccup’s arc that makes this film such a success. Plus, the animation is a real visual treat – the scene where Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) take to the skies atop Toothless is ridiculously gorgeous.

Two Academy Award nominations (Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score) and an equally as fantastic sequel followed, rounding out what remains Dreamworks’ most enduring effort to date.

What is your favourite Dreamworks movies? Let me know in the comments section below!

This article was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.


  1. Cool list, but I was definitely looking for the original Shrek.

    1. Fair call, Shrek is a solid 6th of 7th - but personally I prefer the second film because of Puss and Fairy Godmother :)



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