With this week’s release of caveman comedy The Croods, our writers pick their favourite offerings from Dreamworks Animation.
The Road to El Dorado
The Road to El Dorado may be far from a classic on par with the original Shrek, however there is a certain charm about this early Dreamworks offering. Before Dreamworks had their first taste of big profits they managed to produce unusual quirky films that instead of directly competing with juggernaut that is Disney, aimed to offer something different.
It tells the story of the hunt for the mystical land of El Dorado, famed for being full of gold. The two main characters are brothers Tulio and Miguel who are mistaken by the residents of the golden city for being the ‘Gods’ reincarnated as humans. What is great here is that the perceived ‘good guys’ not being entirely clean cut individuals and in the vein of Indiana Jones, having a bit of spike to their character. El Dorado is beautifully drawn and the effects more than stand the test of time, the soundtrack too is what can only be described as epic (thanks in no part to Elton John’s contribution). So from someone who grew up watching El Dorado, why not give this little-known gem a shot.
Shrek introduced us to everyone’s favorite Scottish ogre. Seemingly unpleasant and frightening, Shrek embarks on an unlikely journey with an unusual ally in the form of Donkey to rescue the Princess in order to reclaim his humble abode.
Based loosely on William Steig’s picture book, the animated feature was the recipient of several accolades: it became DreamWorks’s first global animated hit; inspired a trio of sequels; a spin-off for Puss in Boots; and even a musical on Broadway! Also included in its credentials was the first ever Oscar triumph in the Best Animated Feature category. Needless to state, Shrek was a resounding critical and commercial success.
However, perhaps Shrek’s most cogent accomplishment lied in dispelling the myth that appearances are paramount. Rather, Shrek, Fiona and Donkey all showed that personality trumps our physical manifestation and determines who we represent. The movie illustrated that we are not bound by our outward demeanor.
Put simply, Shrek resonated across all age brackets because of its delightful moral: there’s more to us than meets the eye!
Flushed Away is an Aardman/Dreamworks co-production about a young girl’s pet rat, Roddy (Hugh Jackman), who is sprung from the lap of luxury into the dark, dank sewers when he is accidentally flushed down the toilet whilst his owners are away on holiday. Like many modern animated films, Flushed Away is replete with big names including Jackman, Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen. Despite this, the real stars of the show are clearly the slugs, borrowed from Aardman’s Creature Comforts, intermittently appearing to perform musical numbers as well as screaming lots and “running away,” as fast as slugs can be expected to be able to run. With Dreamworks stunning animation (Flushed Away doesn’t utilise Aardman’s usual claymation, stop-motion techniques) combined with all the charm and British humour of Aardman, and of course, those slugs, Flushed Away is, for me, one of Dreamworks best.
Kung Fu Panda
What had the potential to be another forgettable talking-animal flick, Kung Fu Panda turned out to be a wonderfully detailed and loving homage to the martial arts movie. Bumbling panda Po will stop at nothing to fulfill his dream of becoming a Kung Fu master, despite having the grace of..well, a panda. Due to clumsiness and quite frankly, dumb luck, Po is given the prestigious title of Dragon Warrior and permitted to train alongside his idols, the Furious Five.
The set-pieces are remarkable, demonstrating the same level of breathtaking intricacy as traditional martial arts movies. Jack Black’s usual schtick has never felt more appropriate, and Ian McShane’s villainous snow leopard, Tai Lung is a memorable and frightening adversary. It may not attempt to satisfy an older audience in the same way as Pixar, but those that do see Kung Fu Panda are sure to be delighted by its charm and its heart.
How to Train Your Dragon
For many, How To Train Your Dragon is the gem in the Dreamworks crown by a long shot; a gem that glints and swirls like the eyes of Toothless, most likely. HTTYD follows Hiccup, a young boy that does not fit in with the Viking-dragon-slayer mould, and instead of killing his first captured kill, he befriends it. This dragon is the wide-eyed, aforementioned Toothless: a cross between a ferocious beast and a boundless puppy.
It’s a tale that’s easy to get whisked away with- the visuals are beautifully striking, some of the scenes simply bursting with colour and the aerial flight scenes give you a magnificent rush. DeBlois delivers a punchy, tight script that balances tenderness, humour and action, which is enhanced by Powell’s utterly enchanting Oscar-nominated score. By the end of How To Train Your Dragon, you’ll be wishing you were sat on the sofa cuddled up to your very own Toothless.
Rise of the Guardians
If there is ever a film that fits in best with the studio name, it has to be Rise of the Guardians. Bringing together Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and Jack Frost to fight the Bogeyman, it really is the stuff of every child’s wildest dreams. It is not the best entry in Dreamworks’ canon. It isn’t necessarily the most original either (fairy tale Avengers Assemble anyone?). It is, however, one of the most beautifully animated films in recent times. The voice acting and dialogue is pretty good too. And, as predictable as the story is, there really is something about watching your childhood heroes fighting together that makes you wish you were twelve years old again.