For a while it was fashionable to compare DreamWorks Animation unfavorably to Pixar. While Pixar has made ambitious movies about complex subjects set in unique worlds, DreamWorks just made animals do human things and do the arch-browed “DreamWorks Face,” or so the criticism went. But, while it’s true that several characters… actually make that face, dumping it on DreamWorks says more about the person doing the diss than DreamWorks Animation, which has — and frankly still — made a lot of great movies.
The villains, the latest film from DreamWorks Animation, is a children’s crime film featuring a gang of pet bank robbers. And it opened this weekend to generally good reviews. It is too early to tell us if The villains will enter DreamWorks’ best-in-class canon, but it’s a good chance to celebrate some of the studio’s best films.
We’re going to try to mix things up a bit here and not put more than one movie from a franchise on this list for the sake of variety, otherwise certain franchises would dominate the top 10. And, that would probably knock Shrek off the list, but come on. Besides, Chicken coop and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit are both fantastic but since they were only published by DreamWorks Animation and not produced by the studio, they are not eligible.
ten. Antz (1998)
The first film from DreamWorks Animations is dated both in terms of its CGI which doesn’t look great even by 1998 standards and because of its origins. The film may also have been a direct and intentional scam by Disney. The life of an insect, due to the feud between DreamWorks co-founder (and former Disney guy) Jeffrey Katzenberg and then-Pixar executive John Lasseter. Add to that Woody Allen in a featured voice role, with all the controversy that entails, and Antz is not a picnic. If you are able to look beyond that, however, you must admire Antz to be oddly intense in the way it told a somewhat grounded story about society, socialism, and insect behavior. Plus, the termites are scary and that battle scene is pretty messed up for a kids movie.
Antz is extremely strange and somewhat off-putting, especially at the start of what was to become a fairly traditional studio. This does not necessarily Antz fine, but that certainly makes it interesting.
9. The Croods (2013)
The Flintstones presented themselves as the modern Stone Age family, but that was in the 60s. In the 21st century, it’s the Croods who truly represent the modern family with a caveman twist. The Croods doesn’t reinvent (or should it just “invent”) the wheel, but a kind heart and a willingness to have fun in prehistoric times make for a relatable and affirming family tale.
8. Monsters vs Aliens (2009)
Features of old-school creatures from the 50s and 60s don’t get as much love in pop culture as they deserve, but Monsters vs Aliens does an admirable job of bringing a modern sensibility to the genre’s aesthetic.
Gir on Attack of the 50ft Woman, The Blob, The Fly, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Mothraand a number of cheap flying saucer invasion movies, Monsters vs Aliens is a fun throwback to a lighter, brighter type of sci-fi.
7. The boss baby (2017)
The haters will say that The boss baby, a film where Alec Baldwin plays a baby who is also the boss, is stupid. The real ones know that in fact, The boss baby is completely insane. In a fun way. People who haven’t seen The boss baby just think they know what this movie (and its sequels) is about. This is a film about sleazy corporations that make babies, a caste-like “boss baby” system, the chosen ones, memory wiping, hillbillies and conspiracies to make puppies that don’t. never die nor grow old. The boss baby is powerful, conflicting, cinema.
6. The road to El Dorado (2000)
At the time of its release, The road to El Dorado was underestimated. While past and future DreamWorks Animation movies would position them as the anti-Disneys, Road to El Dorado was considered just another animated movie about going on adventures. It wasn’t the same anymore. In retrospect, however, it’s easier to appreciate the 2000 film as a hidden gem at the end of an era, much like the lost city at the center of the film.
Traditional hand-drawn animation – and traditional storytelling – have all but disappeared from cinemas over the new millennia. In this light, Road to El Dorado is a refreshingly classic genre of film, and the story of two con artists who travel to the New World and are mistaken for God might actually have a little more bite and subtlety than a lot of the Disney movies it’s been compared to.
5. Shrek (2001)
It’s hard to examine Shrek because, more than two decades later, it is almost impossible to separate Shrek: The Movie, from Shrek: The Cultural Sensation, from Shrek: The Meme. The film – the first film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, hilariously – was a sarcastic pop culture benchmark machine whose main goal was to make a big dump the size of a ogre on fairy tale tropes and, of course, Disney. He was over-celebrated when he came out as a breath of fresh air; With hindsight, it is easy to see that Shrek’s was just one of the first signs of the irony-poisoned mass culture we now enjoy. It’s at Shrek’s credit, however, that under farts and The matrix sight gags and smash mouth, there’s actually a decent nugget of a serious, emotional story at the center of this tongue-in-cheek onion. How appropriate.
4. Megamind (2010)
The worst thing Megamind had to go for it was Minions. This highly entertaining 2010 film, about a supervillain who ends up “defeating” the hero who had long beaten him only to then have to fill the void he created for (and in himself), came out the same year that Despicable Me. And, there really could only be one “supervillain with a heart of gold” who reigned supreme, and Gru and his Minions took the win, at least at the box office.
Despicable Me might even have deserved this victory, but it’s a shame that Megamind is forgotten. A clever spoof of superheroes and villains that came out just before the genre got so big it extinguished just about every other prospect at the box office, Megamind manages to feel fresh even as he walks over terrain that would be increasingly done to death. Casting Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt as the titular villain and his Superman-like rival Metro Man, respectively, might be on the nose, but dang if it’s not effective.
3. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
There is really only one negative thing to say about The Prince of Egypt: If someone were to make this film today, they wouldn’t be calling on white people to voice the ancient Egyptians. That aside, The Prince of Egypt is a deeply underrated entry in the genre. It looks amazing, using what was then advanced computer graphics to augment and enhance the hand-drawn animation. The score and sound mixing are also amazing, especially when Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston essentially used Oscar-winning “When You Believe” as an arena to go head-to-head. And, perhaps most importantly, it tells a well-known story, that of Moses, in a way that is both classic and vitally fresh.
2. kung fu panda (2008)
kung fu panda could have been wrong with its premise seemingly to a feature-length joke. Jack Black voices a panda who learns Kung Fu, even though he is [record scratch] fat? That’s not what we have, though, not really. Jack Black, who is and has always been awesome, voices a panda, and this panda is learning Kung Fu, and, yes, he’s on the heavier side. But, kung fu panda goes to great lengths to make Po a very dimensional character in more than just a physical way, and the animal-centric view of ancient China he lives in feels intentional, sought after, and respectful, rather than just a cheap kind exercise.
The best thing about kung fu panda, however, are the fight scenes, which are amazing and better than the fights in most action movies. The scene where the Furious Five (whose ranks include a Lucy Liu-voiced Viper and a Jackie Chan-voiced Monkey) face off against Tai Lung (Ian McShane, amazing) on a long rope bridge over a sea of clouds, is a highlight. Everything about the battle – and the film as a whole – is dynamic, and all of the films in the franchise really make the most of animation as a medium.
1. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
In 2019, when The iron Throne was coming to a disappointing and widely hated end, another dragon-centric series also bowed out. (Well, both would get spin off shows, but the point remains). How to train your dragon has quietly been one of the best fantasy franchises around, and while all three films are fantastic, it’s 2014’s sequel that will represent the series on our list.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 relates to growth. The protagonist, Hiccup, was allowed to grow into a 20-year-old grown man rather than the childish teenager he was when audiences first met him. This sequel also sees the franchise move beyond its initial “Vikings vs. Dragons” premise by challenging itself to tell the story of what happened after they made peace with their enemies and there was a new paradigm. The sequel uses stock fantasy tropes (like a long-lost mother), but these storytelling touchstones only further cement how much the How to train your dragon world really is. With dramatic stakes, thrilling action, and a belief in the power and possibility of change embedded in its scaly DNA, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the best of DreamWorks.