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Top 10 DreamWorks Animated Movies

March 7, 2024
Tyler Banark
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A child sitting on the moon fishing accompanied by a fairytale-like fanfare. What more could you ask for from one of Hollywood's simplest and most recognizable studio logos? With Kung Fu Panda 4 on the horizon this week, DreamWorks Animation has another installment of one of its many beloved franchises. While it has evolved over the years, the studio has never lost sight of its humble beginnings. In their 25-year history, they’ve proven adept at rivaling Disney through their ability to tell stories of different substances and styles. And unlike the Mouse House and Illumination (who never fail to rope audiences in with their vexing mascot and bland style), DreamWorks has never shied away from being themselves, even if the result isn’t always exclamatory. Nevertheless, they still crank out consistently amazing movies, and here are the ten that have stuck with me the most. 

10. Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

I wouldn’t go so far as to describe animated movies as campy, but if there’s one that fits that mold, it’s this 2009 gem. Led by a voice cast of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Kiefer Sutherland, and Stephen Colbert, Monsters vs. Aliens makes for a wacky monster movie that pokes fun at kaiju movies and old sci-fi cult classics like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Rogen gives one of his most underappreciated voiceover performances here as B.O.B., a dimwitted gelatinous mass lacking a brain. The film isn’t one of DreamWorks’ most talked-about works, but rest assured, there are a few lovers of this movie like myself out there.

8. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

As the follow-up on the studio’s biggest surprise hit, How to Train Your Dragon 2 greatly expands the world of Berk and its inhabitants. Hiccup continues his research of dragons and the possibility of them and Vikings living in harmony. The sequel introduces Cate Blanchett’s Valka, Hiccup’s long-lost mother, and Djimon Hounsou’s Drago, a man looking to control all dragons. Their additions add to the already impressive returning voice cast. Throughout the trilogy’s run, each entry made the case that it was worthy of top accolades, but there was always something else pushing it aside. The first and third entries were defeated by Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4, and the middle chapter ran into The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6.

8. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

The conclusion to one of the most underappreciated trilogies ever, The Hidden World finds Hiccup and Toothless facing the ultimate test of a ruthless dragon hunter and his army, all while discovering a hidden realm where dragons live in peace. The animation is top-notch, and the cast is wonderful as always, especially Jay Baruchel, who never failed to make his case as to why he was the best choice for Hiccup. F. Murray Abraham joined the cast as the antagonist, Grimmel, who, like Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2, knows how to counter and confound his opponents. Director Dean DeBlois went all out to make The Hidden World a fitting conclusion to a decade-spanning trilogy, with John Powell’s score remaining consistently soulful, just as the series was as consistent in overall quality.

7. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

As a big welcome back to not only the Shrek universe but to DreamWorks as a whole, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish took some of the biggest risks audiences have witnessed from a DreamWorks property. It not only switched gears in animation styles by following the storybook look of The Bad Guys, but it also featured the scariest representation of death in a family-friendly movie. Thanks to Wagner Moura’s spine-tingling voiceover work, the Wolf is one of the best villains in recent years. However, The Wolf wasn’t the only baddie here making a statement for himself. Big Jack Horner, voiced by John Mulaney, displayed his ruthlessness by being willing to kill one of his henchmen without remorse. Puss is written with complexity as he grapples with mortality and anxiety, capped with further commentary on how our time in life is short and shouldn’t be wasted.

6. The Bad Guys (2022)

Based on the popular children’s book series by Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys flew under the radar when compared to the studio’s other works. Not only was it the best animated film to come out that year, but it was also one of the first to show Into the Spider-Verse’s impact on the industry, as the animation is far different than anything done before by DreamWorks. The Bad Guys steers away from the typical computer-generated look and goes for something more storybook-like. It pulled me in immediately through its opening scene: a long take of Wolf and Snake eating breakfast before pulling up to a bank for another heist. On the surface, it’s just an opening scene that the typical viewer could just brush off. However, if you’re like me, you’ll notice that DreamWorks made a subtle homage to Quentin Tarantino and his crime flicks (more specifically, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction). Sam Rockwell led an excellent cast; including Awkwafina, Anthony Ramos, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Zazie Beetz, and Richard Ayoade.

5. Kung Fu Panda (2008)

A remarkable feat that safely introduced young audiences to martial arts movies, Kung Fu Panda not only featured the witty humor audiences came to expect but also a compelling character arc for Jack Black’s Po. The movie provided resonant motifs of never giving up and that answers can be found in the unlikeliest places. Black had an impressive supporting cast around him, including Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, and Ian McShane as one of the best villains in studio history who is both menacing and understandable. Kung Fu Panda cemented DreamWorks’ second most successful franchise, and it’s never been far behind a certain green ogre…

4. Shrek 2 (2004)

Shrek 2 is one of the rare sequels to equal its predecessor. Not only did it raise the stakes, but it distanced itself enough to the point where it could be a standalone, feel-good movie. Shrek 2 also featured a great villain in Fairy Godmother, who is nice on the surface but reveals her true intentions by trying to get in between Shrek and Fiona. The sequel also introduced us to the irresistible Puss in Boots, who solidified himself as a franchise favorite to the point where he got two spin-offs. There’s also a strong soundtrack, with the highlights being the movie’s anthem, Accidentally in Love, and Jennifer Saunders’ cover of Holding Out For a Hero.

3. Shrek (2001)

A landmark film of a generation and the first film to win Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars, Shrek is DreamWorks’ golden child. It put the studio on the map and provided a wake-up call to Hollywood that Disney isn’t the only source of animation, while also spawning three sequels and two spin-offs. During its run, Shrek went on to become the first animated film in almost sixty years to compete for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, and Eddie Murphy became the first actor to receive a BAFTA nomination for a voice-over role by playing Donkey. It threw out audiences’ preconceptions about fairytales, giving us a hero far from Prince Charming on the outside, yet still charismatic and lovable. It made a statement that anyone is capable of giving and receiving love, with the added bonus of several raunchy jokes and clever moments that have become staples of online culture. 

2. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

The best piece of religious cinema I’ve ever seen and one of DreamWorks’ earliest works, The Prince of Egypt follows the story of Moses and his liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Ancient Egypt. Based on the book of Exodus, it’s one of the few faith-based films to resonate with culture both critically and commercially, with other worlds like The Passion of the Christ and Silence falling on extreme ends of the spectrum. A strong cast including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, and Martin Short all brought their A-game. The Prince of Egypt is still one of the few DreamWorks movies to feature traditional hand-drawn animation, most notably seen in the climax where Moses parted the Red Sea, and an eerie nightmare sequence told through Egyptian paintings. Music from Hans Zimmer and a soundtrack featuring sweeping songs such as Deliver Us, Through Heaven’s Eyes, and The Plagues, aided in establishing the epic scale and the studio’s legacy.

1. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

If you’re reading this and know this cinephile personally, then this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover, and that’s exactly the case with How to Train Your Dragon. Gorgeous animation with the help of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakin, a stellar voice cast, and a timeless script are just a few of the reasons why the movie exceeded all expectations. Hiccup and Toothless are an irresistible duo, accompanied by many characters that complement them well. Furthermore, John Powell’s score is one of the best, if not the best this critic has ever heard. It’s easy to listen to, and you can’t help but smile when you hear our duo’s themes. This first chapter also lays the groundwork for one of the most consistent animated trilogies ever, never going overboard with the worldbuilding, leaving enough to be discovered and built upon in said sequels. Through Hiccup, the movie conveys that you should never be afraid to be who you truly are, even if everyone around you is different. This method can be applied to DreamWorks as a studio, which is exactly why How to Train Your Dragon is their best.

You can follow Tyler and hear more of his thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.

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