Disney and its subsidiary, Pixar, are known for being the giants of the animation game. Only focusing on the Steve Jobs-founded studio would be a disservice to DreamWorks, though. This company is a box office giant with huge franchises that have affected millions of families in a positive way since the the 1990s. DreamWorks often has bigger names voicing its characters, and the company focuses on sequels more than Pixar does. This has helped it become financially successful and compete well with other animation studios.
We’re here to count down the 10 best DreamWorks movies ever made, a difficult task considering the studio has made more than 40 feature animated films! Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon will all feature in the list, of course, but maybe there are some forgotten classics as well?
We all know that The Incredibles is one of the crowning achievements in Pixar’s crown, and the dawn of the 2010s saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe really heating up. Megamind is DreamWorks putting its name in the superhero hat. With its main character voiced by Will Ferrell, this funny spoof film helps viewers see the world from a supervillain’s perspective, even if that villain isn’t all that evil to begin with. Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Tina Fey round out the typical high-end voice cast.
Another superhero movie comes in as the ninth selection on our list, but this one is of a completely different tone than Megamind. Adapted from Dav Pilkey’s best-selling children’s novels, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is the ultimate re-imagining of what it would be like if our school administrators were cool. The white-briefed hero of the tale is just the principal of the fictional Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. After being hypnotized, Mr. Krupp is able to turn into the best version of himself while in a fugue state. The movie is an excellent example of a well-executed novel-to-animated-film adaptation.
One of the earliest DreamWorks movies that’s often forgotten is The Prince of Egypt. The film is able to retell the classic biblical story of the Book of Exodus with kid-friendly musical scores and talented voice work from Val Kilmer, Jeff Goldblum, and Steve Martin, among others. This movie helped prove that DreamWorks had a few tricks up its sleeve to compete with Disney and Pixar at the turn of the 21st century.
Most animated films fall into a few select genres. Romance, family drama, fairy tales, and grand adventure are some of the most frequent subject matters for animation studios. The Bad Guys carves out a unique place among DreamWorks’ other films because of its crime/heist nature. Add in the cute anthropomorphic animals and thematic elements such as morality and redemption and you’ve got a great film for the whole family!
There aren’t many DreamWorks movies that rely on their all-star cast more than Madagascar. Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, and David Schwimmer all turn in iconic performances as zoo animals from New York who get shipped to the aforementioned island of Madagascar. Homesick, rattled, and hilariously unprepared for the wild, the movie pokes fun of some of the lifestyle differences between sheltered people and those who have seen a thing or two.
In a rare instance of true franchise greatness, Shrek 2 is the first of two appearances by this franchise on our list. This fantasy film expands on many of the same satirical tropes and uncouth jokes that made the first Shrek flourish, all while expanding the scope of the universe and incorporating more characters, such as Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). In our opinion, this was the last truly great film in DreamWorks’ most famous franchise.
The most recent movie from DreamWorks, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish corrected a lot of the mistakes made by 2011’s Puss in Boots film. A more realistic and grounded portrayal of the character’s struggles helped audiences connect with the beloved Puss of Shrek fame as he tries to get back his nine lives with the help of the Last Wishing Star. A scene in which Puss has a panic attack quickly went viral on social media for its authenticity and bravery, inspiring viewers to embrace and overcome their mental health issues instead of shying away from them.
When the first How to Train Your Dragon movie came out, it didn’t seem like it was going to become one of DreamWorks’ biggest franchises. There aren’t many huge names; Jay Baruchel voices the main character, Hiccup, while Gerard Butler voices Hiccup’s father. The setting is part of the medieval Viking Age, which isn’t exactly a well-explored genre for animation. But the charisma, genuine storytelling, and downright relatable relationship between human and animal pet was enough to make it one of the studio’s best movies.
Has there ever been a CGI character more easily associated with their voice actor than Jack Black and Po the panda? Black imbues the adorably friendly protagonist of Kung Fu Panda with his signature sense of brash humor, transforming a timid character into a confident one. Po meets many other animals on his way to becoming the Dragon Warrior and mastering kung fu, such as Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), Master Mantis (Seth Rogan), and Master Monkey (Jackie Chan). The movie was succeeded by three more sequels, the most recent of which will be released in 2024.
This fairytale film with more than a decent share of potty humor completely captured the hearts and minds of children worldwide when it was released in 2001, and it’s more relevant than ever more than 20 years later. Mike Myers voices Shrek, the cranky yet kind-hearted ogre who just wants to remain a homebody in his swamp. While adventuring in the satirical land outside of the Kingdom of Far Far Away, Shrek discovers he may need others more than he thought. Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz star as side characters, and the film spawned several sequel films. Shrek is by far the most iconic movie DreamWorks has ever made. One could argue the film serves as the company’s version of what Toy Story is to Pixar, which is a strong enough reason to land it in our number-one spot.
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