When Dreamworks was founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen in the mid-1990s, it was the first time in decades that anyone had attempted to create their own big budget movie studio. Their rise and fall as a studio was chronicled in the excellent “The Men Who Would Be Kings,” written by Nicole LaPorte. As the years went on, each segment (animation, movies/TV, and music) was spun off, with Dreamworks Animation becoming its own studio in 2004, while Spielberg retained the film division.
The Jeffrey Katzenberg led Dreamworks Animation is making a questionable choice for the future of their department. According to Variety, Dreamworks Animation has just brought in Katie O’Connell Marsh to help build a live-action television department. Marsh is responsible for helping along some critically successful shows, such as NBC’s “Hannibal” and Netflix’s “Narcos.” Still, the move is odd for the animation studio. In the Hollywood Reporter, Dreamworks President Ann Daly said this commitment will be for at least $10 million. What is most concerning is that Daly then cited “Shrek” and “The Penguins of Madagascar” as likely candidates for live-action adaptation.
This seems like a less than ideal situation that Marsh is walking into. To be frank, both the “Shrek” and “Madagascar” franchises have been mined for all their worth. Both series have seen spin-off shows and films present for the better part of a decade. While Shrek was a unique take on fairy tales in 2001, the films have become almost self parody in recent years, with a seemingly never ending string of films and TV specials. “Madagascar” was never in the same realm of popularity, yet was furthered through TV shows and three additional feature films. More curious here is how exactly would you adapt these shows to a live action medium? Shrek worked as a musical on Broadway, largely because it focused on a singular story. However, a weekly show would be a far tougher sell than being reintroduced to a popular story through a new medium. If Marsh can kick start some new programs, than I’m sure that Dreamworks can work in live-action television. Hopefully we’ll see that come to fruition.
In what was more of an aside in the Hollywood Reporter piece, Daly also noted that Dreamworks animation is continuing to pursue potential theme parks in the coming years. At the moment, Shrek is present at Universal Studios, while Madagascar is present in a limited capacity at Busch Gardens. There have been rumors about some of the characters showing up in theme parks being built in Dubai, but a full park would seem to be a more interesting avenue for Dreamworks. With solid stories in their catalog, like “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda,” there are still cool characters that could be brought to life. We’ll see if anything comes from this statement, or if it was more put out as a potential feeler for other companies.
For the last few years, Spielberg has run his segment of Dreamworks with help from Disney as a distributor. Their greatest success in their partnership has easily been “Bridge of Spies” which not only grossed more than $100 million worldwide, but is seen as a legitimate Oscar contender. Their upcoming adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic “The BFG” also looks like it could be a home run. Despite the recent uptick in success, Variety is reporting that Dreamworks is receiving a semi-studio “reboot” from Universal and Participant Media, who will be injecting $200 million as investors into the film division.
Variety continues on to say that Spielberg has been less than thrilled with Disney’s priorities of late. Rather than developing Dreamworks films, Disney has placed a greater focus on Marvel and Star Wars. This gels with Spielberg’s public opinions, even going on record to say that he believes superhero movies will “go the way of the western.” Honestly, while I think this is an odd reading from Spielberg, I’m happy to hear he’s going to work with Universal again. After all, many of his best films were made in conjunction with Universal, so if he’s “returning home” maybe we can see the quality get back to where he once was.
Stay tuned for more news regarding Dreamworks in the future.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” is set to open on January 29th, 2016, and stars Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, Kate Hudson, and James Hong.
“The BFG” is set to open on July 1st, 2016. It is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, Jermaine Clement, Bill Hader, and Ruby Barnhill.