The 10 Best Dreamworks Animated Movies of All Time

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The 10 Best Dreamworks Animated Movies of All Time

Since shifting to CGI a few years after its founding by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, Dreamworks Animation has had a bit of an unfortunate, though not unwarranted, reputation among the large animation houses. Historically, they’re a bit crasser than Disney, a bit dumber than Pixar, a bit more like Studio Ghibli’s buzzed cousin that won’t stop telling the kids dirty jokes at dinner. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t made incredible, heartfelt, hilarious works of art. Some of them just happen to also be Shrek.

While many of their movies may feature some eyebrow-waggling, snark-filled protagonists, there’s been enough creative diversity throughout the company’s nearly 30-year history to provide ample viewing for those interested in traditional, stop-motion and computer animation. Those looking for rollicking adventures and groundbreaking comedies will find plenty to love here, as will those after one of the best claymation movies ever made. Those that would like to see those funny talking Madagascar animals may be disappointed, but you know where to find those films. We’re here to provide recommendations, not stop you from movin’ movin’ it.

Here are the ten best Dreamworks movies:


10. The Croods

croods.jpg Year: 2013
Directors: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

The Croods is full of kinetic action sequences, a few laughs and strong voice work. It’s a fairly straightforward tale about family. There’s Grug (Nicolas Cage), the overprotective father, and his rebellious daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), each trying to make the world in their own view, one cautious and the other curious. There’s the token sassy mother-in-law, the weary but loving mother and the rest of the family that’s imagined mostly in two dimensions, despite the 3D rendering. There’s even the strange outsider and a road trip narrative that lends itself to some familiar laughs. The joke that we’re supposed to be in on is that these aren’t clichés if they’re happening for the first time, chronologically. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel tired to any member of the audience old enough to drive. Grug is scared of everything new and governs his brood with this philosophy. “Never not be scared,” he instructs, and it’s almost as if the writers took his advice. Things kick up a notch or two, though, when a nomad named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) arrives, full of ideas—the biggest of which is that the world is ending and the family that was sequestered in a cave needs to get out and get moving, or end up as fossils. It’s through his eyes that The Croods really comes to life. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins consulted on some of the visuals, and it shows in scenes involving Eep’s discovery of fire and the enormity of the universe, as seen for the first time from the top of a forest. This is where the 3D really shines—not in gimmicky sequences with things flying out of the screen, but by adding a depth to the field of vision that is immersive and subtle. There is a fascinating underlying question here—what must it have been like to be the first to experience the wonders of the world? It isn’t asked often, but when it is, the results are poignant and beautiful. —Tyler Chase


9. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

how-to-train-dragon-hidden-world-movie-poster copy.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Dean DeBlois
Stars: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, and F. Murray Abraham
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

While every studio is tripping over themselves to kick-start the next blockbuster franchise before the first film is even cast, the How to Train Your Dragon crew has been building an engaging family fantasy/adventure trilogy (loosely based on the novels of Cressida Cowell) over the last ten years. The first movie was a pleasant surprise—it not only avoided Dreamworks’ then-prevalent animated family fare formula of tongue-in-cheek humor and pop-culture references, but built on its source material in a way that created a distinct fantasy world that any fan of the genre, child or adult, could enjoy. At its core, the story of Viking teen Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) befriending a rare dragon called Toothless and learning to get along with dragons in a culture that feared and hunted them was a tender allegory on young adults paving their own way in life while standing up to tradition they deem to be wrongheaded. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World revolves around Hiccup trying to find a new location that would keep the people of Berk and their dragons safe. After spending years rescuing dragons from captivity, the townspeople are understandably worried that the dragon poachers will soon retaliate, so Hiccup takes it upon himself to find the mythical Hidden World where humans and dragons can live in peace. Meanwhile, Toothless falls in love with a female night fury (dubbed a “light fury” thanks to her bright white skin). The new love interest is joined by a new antagonist, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), the greatest dragon hunter in the world. The developing rift—or perhaps it’s more precise to call it “drift”—between Hiccup and Toothless that provides the overall narrative glue for the film’s series of breathtaking action set pieces might provide a bittersweet tone for fans of the series. Yet it also captures the bittersweet experiences we all face when we take our final steps into adulthood. That doesn’t mean the spectacle is lacking. The visual majesty of this Viking utopia, full of foggy mountains and the clear blue sea as far as the eye can see, gets yet another upgrade with some new breathtaking locations. It all makes for a solid conclusion to such an endearing franchise. Given its success, it seems unlikely this will be the last film from the land of Berk and beyond. But as a closing chapter in the tale of Hiccup and Toothless, The Hidden World ends this portion of the tale on a satisfying note. —Oktay Ege Kozak


8. Mr. Peabody & Sherman

peabody.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Rob Minkoff
Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Ariel Winter, Patrick Warburton
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a reminder that Hollywood’s obsession with reboots/revivals/re-imaginings can be done right. The characters originated on the beloved ’60s cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and the track record for bringing segments from that show to the big screen is pretty dreadful. Peabody director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) makes the wise choice of keeping the new film strictly animated, no live-action needed. That decision both respects the original material and frees up the possibilities for a story that begins with a wacky premise—a dog, Mr. Peabody, who happens to be a certified genius adopts a human boy, Sherman, as his son—and gets crazier from there as the duo travel through time in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine (that’s pronounced “way-back”). He’s a sort of doggie Doctor Who, although his travels are confined to Earth. The original Peabody shorts are known for their smart, pun-driven humor and amusing riffs on history and culture, all of which is retained here. —Geoff Berkshire


7. How To Train Your Dragon 2

dragon-2.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Dean DeBlois
Stars: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill
Rating: PG
Runtime: 112 minutes

How to Train Your Dragon was the definition of a pleasant surprise, so its sequel had big shoes to fill. It’s to the creative team’s credit then that, rather than rehash the themes of the first film all over again, they chose to instead expand the world out into new and interesting directions. It’s been five years since the events of the last film. Everyone in the Viking village of Berk now lives in harmony with the dragons and even participates in fun-filled games. Though our protagonist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), has grown since we last saw him, he remains as lovably goofy and sarcastic as ever. Yet, not all is well in paradise. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to start grooming his son to succeed him as village chieftain. It’s a position Hiccup feels woefully ill-equipped for, despite encouraging words from now-girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera). Our hero’s personal squabbles, however, are interrupted when he and Astrid stumble upon a group of men attempting to capture dragons. They are led by dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington), who claims to be on a mission from Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a ruthless conqueror hellbent on raising a dragon army and taking over the land. Whereas the first film benefited from a simpler, concise narrative involving the classic boy-and-his-dog/cat/dragon arc, this latest entry bites off a little more story than it can chew. But it has more than enough great moments to pick up the slack. From a technical standpoint, it’s a marvel to behold. As great as the flying sequences were in the original film, this entry effectively one-ups them. Also, the sheer detail of the animation is, at times, baffling. How to Train Your Dragon 2 may not be Toy Story 2 (or The Empire Strikes Back, for that matter), but it’s a more than worthy successor to the first film. Even when it falls short of its lofty ambitions, you can’t help but appreciate how thoroughly it commits to achieving them. —Mark Rozeman


6. Antz

antz.jpg Year: 1998
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson
Stars: Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman
Rating: PG
Runtime: 83 minutes

Before Dreamworks became a powerhouse with Shrek and Madagascar, the newly founded company recruited an all-star cast for Antz: Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken and many more. Released in the same year as Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Antz follows the inspiring story of a lowly worker ant Z (Woody Allen) who tries to work his way up the social ladder in the ant colony while falling in love with Queen Ant’s daughter, Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). —Eric Gossett


5. Shrek

shrek.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes

There’s far more to Shrek than its status as a mean, green, meme machine. The parody-filled winner of the first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar, Shrek’s pop cultural references and confident computer animation were a massive smash—establishing Dreamworks as a modern CG company to be taken seriously, even if its ogres were explicitly not to be. The quotable blend of superstars, fart jokes and company-defining smarm remains the cool kids’ alternative to fairy tales even if some of its humor (and Smash Mouth soundtrack) has aged like an onion’s many layers in the sun. It still showed a surprising amount of respect for its young audience and waggled many an eyebrow at the older crowd taking those kids to the theater. How many Disney baddies have names that sound like “fuckwad”? Cannes, historically, has never been wrong about movies with animated talking donkeys.—Jacob Oller


4. Rise of the Guardians

rise-guardians.jpeg Year: 2012
Director: Peter Ramsey
Stars: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law
Rating: PG
Runtime: 99 minutes

Based on the Guardians of Childhood book series by William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians has one of those premises so simple and brilliant as to induce a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that smack to the head. The idea is that famous figures from children’s lore all exist and work together to protect kids from harm. These appointed “guardians” are Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman, who is mute. Leading them all is “Manny,” the Man in the Moon, who appears to them as, well, the moon. When Pitch, the Bogeyman (Jude Law) invades Santa’s castle and reveals his plans to spread fear around the world, Manny decides to recruit a new team member, and summons Jack Frost (Chris Pine) for the job. Frost is portrayed as an amiable teen slacker (complete with hoodie), who’s spent the 300-odd years of his existence just tooling around the world having fun and causing icy mischief. His problem is that since not enough children of the world believe in him, they also can’t see him, unlike the rest of the guardians, so he’s led something of a lonely and purposeless existence. The unconventional design of the guardians makes for a lot of the film’s charm. In a nod to Saint Nick’s European origins, Santa is patterned after a scimitar-wielding Russian Cossack, complete with accent. The Tooth Fairy is a luminous, multicolored hummingbird hybrid. The Easter Bunny is a pugnacious scrapper from the Outback. Sandman is impish and childlike, but brimming with power in the guise of the magical golden sand he uses to communicate as well as to create happy dreams. Pitch is the simplest of the figures, dressed in basic black, with a hawk nose and yellow eyes that convey menace without being too scary for the intended audience. As the bogeyman invades and sabotages the various guardians’ realms we also get to see how their operations run: Who’s really in charge of making Santa’s toys (it’s not who you think), how your teeth get out from under your pillow, etc. There’s a lot of creativity on display, and like most modern animation, it truly looks like a storybook come to life, full of warmth, deep colors and sparkles. —Dan Kaufman


3. The Prince of Egypt

prince-egypt.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Stars: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short
Rating: PG
Runtime: 99 minutes

Dark, beautiful, and filled with songs as epic as its visuals, The Prince of Egypt came about when Jeffrey Katzenberg’s desire to make an animated version of The Ten Commandments finally became feasible after Katzenberg co-founded Dreamworks. The striking result is a painterly smorgasbord of Biblical imagery writ large that just happens to be voiced by a ton of A-listers and unexpected choices (Steven Martin and Martin Short? Why not!). It’s a lush and dramatic film with ambitions so high that it makes total sense when learning that its animators were sent to work on Shrek as a punishment if they weren’t up to snuff on Prince. It swings for the fences and mostly pulls it off, even if its grand vision wasn’t matched by equally grand successes.—Jacob Oller


2. Kung Fu Panda

kung fu panda poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2008
Director: John Stevenson
Stars: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jackie Chan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 91 minutes

Kung Fu Panda isn’t just a good movie—it’s a good kung fu movie. The title isn’t pandering, because the film truly respects its source material. Jack Black’s character may as well be Sammo Hung or Jackie Chan in one of his early roles. All of the classical elements are there—an obnoxious pupil who becomes a fighting machine. A team of (literally) animal-based martial artists with varying styles. An unbeatable, rampaging villain in the vein of the Ghost-Faced Killer from Mystery of Chessboxing. And a secret technique that the hero needs to learn in order to conquer that villain. It’s a funny, vibrant film as easily enjoyed by children as adults, and one that the adult viewers should feel no embarrassment for enjoying as much as they do. If you like classical martial arts filmmaking, Kung Fu Panda is probably the most faithful animated twist on the genre that anyone has pulled off so far. Too bad the same can’t be said of its overblown sequels. —J.V.


1. Chicken Run

chicken-run-poster.jpg Year: 2000
Directors: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Stars: Julia Sawalha, Lynn Ferguson, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson
Rating: G
Runtime: 84 minutes

Wallace and Gromit are perhaps Aardman’s sweetest stop-motion creations, but the clay poultry of Chicken Run might be their best. Riffing on prison bust movies like The Great Escape with kid-friendly flavor and slapstick that’s both hilarious and genuinely exciting, the farm-fleeing animated film is formally impressive and warmly winning to boot. It’s the best of the Disney ethos—talking animals helping along classic plot material, bolstered by a downright dreadful villain—with the added comic edge, elegant silent movie-like setpieces and brainy references of its sharp British creators. The plucky action/comedy even features one of the better Mel Gibson performances, with the added benefit of not having to look at him while enjoying it.—Jacob Oller