When it comes to the modern day of animation, there is perhaps one studio that consistently delivers masterpiece after masterpiece, astounding audiences all over the world with its heartfelt animated treasures, time after time. Unfortunately, the Disney top 10 is still a work in progress, so here’s some DreamWorks to bridge the gap, which is effectively like substituting a Bentley for a Corsa.
Number 10: Megamind (2010)
The Will Ferrell superhero comedy takes the typical DreamWorks approach to storytelling of rehashing the same ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ angle seen in previous works like Shrek, Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale. While the picture does contain the familiar wacky humour, zany characters and drop dead gorgeous visuals that audiences have come to expect over the years, there’s one glaring issue that prevents the film from achieving its full potential: Megamind is blue. Not to turn this into a racial issue, but I’m not all that aware of the abundance of blue people walking around these days. Earth may in fact be referred to as the ‘blue planet’, but I don’t believe that the science geeks were referring to its populace when they coined the term. It may seem like a trivial issue, but I for one find it difficult to relate to a character who is so flagrantly aqueous in appearance. Unless you happen to be a 10,000 year old genie, a Smurf or a member of the Blue Man Group, I wouldn’t begrudge anybody looking to give this one a miss.
Number 9: The Croods (2013)
Normally, I would praise to the moon and back any major production that features perhaps the greatest acting talent of this, or any other generation – Nicolas Cage. The Croods, however, suffers from one of the most easily identifiable and overly obnoxious filmmaking sins. For all of the modern breakthroughs in video technology and graphic design capabilities, The Croods is weighed down by an incredibly old fashioned mind-set. Whoever took the driver’s seat in terms of the production’s narrative direction is clearly an out and out technophobe, as the film refuses to discuss or even acknowledge anything in relation to popular culture: No smartphones, no social media, in fact, no internet whatsoever. To think about what a significant impact the world wide web has had on the culture of today and how we relay information, news, stories to one another, one would have to think that DreamWorks would want to capitalise on this. Simply put, this film is dated. Unfortunately for now, it’s quite apparent that directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders are stuck in their ways and don’t look as if they’re going to budge any time soon.
Number 8: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
DreamWorks has a serious penchant for interpreting the stories of history, myth and legend, transforming what would normally be the most innocuous and mundane of tales into a fantastic voyage of mystery and wonderment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Sinbad and his various adventures, the gripe I have with this film and the reason it doesn’t take a higher spot is it has such an overt issue with false advertising. Just take another look at that title: Legend of the Seven Seas. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to work out that there aren’t seven seas in this film. There is in fact just one. DreamWorks may have everybody else fooled on this one, but I see through their clever ruse. Drawing and animating the same sea over and over again, copying and pasting to fill in the blanks, that isn’t fantastic or gripping storytelling, that’s just lazy. I simply cannot and will not gravitate towards any film that is so willing to cut corners and take shortcuts. If they wanted seven seas in their film, they should have put in the effort to make them look different to anyone who doesn’t have a PhD in water studies.
Number 7: Shrek 2 (2004)
This one is still a little difficult to digest. When Shrek was first released to the world in 2001, the world fell in love with it. It was a breath of fresh air to see a picture that was so heartfelt, so relatable and just so fun to watch. Though, that joyous feeling soon turned sour as three years later, Shrek 2 was released, or more accurately put, re-released. DreamWorks seemed to pull the wool over the eyes of almost everybody with this one, but when you step back and simply take a look at Shrek 2 objectively, it becomes painfully obvious what I can’t stand about this film: That it is the same film. It’s hard to see how this seemed to slip through the cracks. The film features all the same characters, the same actors, and the same director. For a major motion picture studio to unabashedly re-release a three year old film and slap a big number two on the cover is abhorrent and frankly embarrassing. ‘Shrek number two’ is exactly that, a big number two on DreamWorks’ personal record.
Number 6: Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
Perhaps 15 or so years ago, this would have been considered an original concept. The fact of the matter is that versus films have been done to death by this point. We already have Alien vs. Predator. We already have Freddy vs. Jason. We already have Kramer vs. Kramer. Why are these types of films still so popular when all they do is serve to glorify violence and conflict? Why can it can never be ‘Monsters have a friendly debate with Aliens’ or ‘Monsters and Aliens attend regular counselling sessions to work through their issues’? It’s unfortunate that nowadays gratuitous violence and on-screen combat has become such a staple of modern cinema that not even children’s animated features are safe. For such an all-star cast and promising direction to be wasted on a director with such primitive and obsolete ideologies is frankly a shame.
Number 5: The Road to El Dorado (2000)
This one is simply a case of infuriating and flagrant false advertising. For a film titled The Road to El Dorado, most would expect the picture to centre on the protagonists’ journey to find the city of gold. They would not, however, anticipate the lead characters to reach the fabled location within the first twenty or so minutes of the picture. It’s really more of a character driven narrative that focuses on the conflict that arises between the two leads, playing on the concepts of greed, glory and jealousy. The sad fact of the matter is that the story is less to do with how to get to El Dorado, but more so how to get away from it – in which case, this feature really should have been called The Road Away From El Dorado.
Number 4: Shrek (2001)
Shrek is love. Shrek is life.
Number 3: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
Leslee Feldman was responsible for the casting in this DreamWorks classic and deserves an Academy Award for that feat alone. In all honesty, Matt Damon is the only person in existence who I believe can convincingly portray the inner monologue of a horse. Perhaps Damon has some deep-rooted connections to the equestrian world: Was he raised by horses in the wild? Did he spend his free time growing up running round in circles and jumping over hedges? Does Matt Damon survive wholly on some crazy celebrity diet of hay and oats? For a motion picture about the life of a wild horse, it certainly raises more questions than it answers.
Number 2: Rise of the Guardians (2012)
For a solid two years, Rise of the Guardians held onto the top spot on my personal list of ‘Best Guardian Films’. At the time, it didn’t exactly have much in the way of competition: There was Legend of the Guardians, a film about owls and The Guardian, which starred Kevin Costner. (Just saying his name leaves a bad taste in the mouth.) Rise of the Guardians would likely still be number one to this date, had it not been for the release of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. If anything, this spot is dedicated Marvel Studios and here’s to hoping that ‘Guardians 2’ follows in the same footsteps.
Number 1: How to Train Your Dragon/2 (2010/14)
Everything about this ongoing series tickles my fancy: It’s got a compelling story, likable and relatable characters and, well, it’s got dragons. Has there ever been a bad feature put to film that had dragons? It’s scripted and acted to incredible effect, but unfortunately, this is also what detracts from the series. While it’s all well and good to produce such a quality action-adventure picture, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t mesh particularly well with the ‘how to’ guide format that the film was trying to accomplish. Without the step-by-step instructional layout, the training lessons that the film is attempting to portray become a little lost in translation and most audiences will find themselves no closer to getting their dragons under control. While I can appreciate them trying to do something different – I’m just as big a fan of the avant-garde as anybody – sometimes there’s nothing wrong with doing things by the book. This is a perfect example of the idiom: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’