The Best Films of Dreamworks Animation

Published: June 1, 2014

We all know and love Disney's animated classics, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Frozen. But they aren't the only top contenders of the animation industry. In 1998, a new contender for top spot released their first two films: Antz and The Prince of Egypt. Since then, they have released plenty of movies that are considered classics in their own rights. This is a list of the ten Dreamworks animated films that I consider the best (for the purposes of this list, the most recent release is Mr. Peabody and Sherman), judged by how well I believe they tell the storys they set out to tell.

  1. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

    The Prince of Egypt is an adaption of the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus, similar to The Ten Commandments. In ancient Egypt, the pharoah feels that the Hebrew slaves have grown too large in number, so he orders his soliders to kill every first-born. One mother saves her newborn child by casting him into a river in a basket and praying that he lands somewhere safe. The baby ends up in the hands of the pharoah's wife, who decides to adopt the baby, who she named Moses. Moses is raised as Egyptian royalty, but he finds out that his mother was a slave. Feeling guilty, he leaves Egypt and comes across a vision of God himself, who tells Moses that he will deliver the Hebrews out of slavery. Moses returns to Egypt to convince the pharoah, now his brother Rameses, to free his people.

    This film is probably one of the best-looking animated films of all time. This is one of the few hand-drawn animated films Dreamworks has made, and it's clear they went all-out on just their first film. The film also uses computer generated graphics, and they never look out of place. 

    Like the Disney films coming out at the time, The Prince of Egypt is an animated musical. A lot of animation companies were trying to capitalize on Disney's success by making similarly-styled animated films, but most of them were not much of a success. The Prince of Egypt is one of the few that stands out from other imitators, and even managed to make its own style. A lot of the songs are different in style and tone from the songs of Disney's movies, which helps set the film apart.

    The story of this film is different from the original Book of Exodus, but I feel it is for the better. The Prince of Egypt isn't just about Moses freeing the Hebrews, but also about his relationship with his brother Rameses. While Rameses is the villain of the movie, he is also a sympathetic one. Rameses has been pressured to be a worthy pharaoh and does not want to be looked down on by history, which is why he will not free the Hebrews at first. As God's wrath is visited on Egypt, both Moses and Rameses wish that things could be like they were before, but stay on their paths, which hurts them both. In the end, despite Moses freeing the Hebrews, he still regrets what had to happen to achieve that goal: losing his brother forever. While this element was not present in the original story, I feel its addition was for the best, since it created great drama.

    The Prince of Egypt stays true to the essence of the Biblical story and carves out its own narrative niche, so I feel it was a big success, and Dreamworks best animated film.

  2. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

    I've always held that Dreamworks is the best when it comes to making animated sequels, and Kung Fu Panda 2 is a prime example of that. Continuing the story of the first film, Po and the Furious Five are sent on a mission to stop a peacock known as Lord Shen. Shen has invented a new weapon, cannons, which poses much more of a threat to the world than any previous villain. While working to stop Shen, Po finds out that Shen is also connected to the events that resulting in him being raised in the Valley of Peace.

    A good sequel is one that doesn't rehash any plot devices from the previous film and continues the story, and Kung Fu Panda 2 does both in spades. Instead of instantly being an expert after the end of the first film, Po is still learning how to be a kung fu master. Instead of the Furious Five still disliking Po, they are now his friends; especially Tigress, the one who took the longest to warm up to him in the first movie. The movie brings in a new element of Po's pathos: what happened to his family. There is even a scene near the end when Po finds out, and it is utterly heartbreaking. 

    The movie also improves on the comedy of the first film. Lord Shen, while being a threatening villain, is also a funny character. His lackies, a pack of wolves, also get some good quips in. The returning characters are still funny, and nearly every joke hits bullseye in this movie. Of the films made in the modern Dreamworks style, I feel Kung Fu Panda 2 is the best of that style.

  3. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

    One of Dreamworks most popular modern animated films, How to Train Your Dragon is the story of a boy named Hiccup. He lives in the time of the vikings, in the village of Berk. For as long as anyone can remember, vikings and dragons have been at war, and in viking society, killing a dragon is a sign of respect. Hiccup has all the wrong stuff when it comes to hunting dragons, and his father always considered him a dissapointment. But one day, Hiccup comes across a wounded dragon, and instead of killing it, he frees the dragon. Intrigued, Hiccup spends time with the dragon and they form a friendship, and he even names the dragon Toothless. While spending time with Toothless, Hiccup realizes that dragons are just like any other animal; they can be trained to help humans. 

    This seems like a typical story, but the film does a lot of things that make it stand out. The atmosphere of the movie is fantastic. The animation is beautiful, and the soundtrack is fantastic where it counts. There is a particular scene where Hiccup learns how to fly Toothless, and it has the best combination of animation, visuals and music that I have ever seen. It is truly a sight to behold. 

    The relationships of the characters are what sell the movie. The main relationship is between Hiccup and Toothless, and it's great to see how each warms up to the other. But the relationship between Hiccup and his father is also interesting. His dad feels Hiccup is a dissapointment, but he is still struggling to have a good relationship with him. He doesn't hate Hiccup, he just doesn't understand him. Similar to The Prince of Egypt, this makes for great drama. While the movie isn't the most original story ever told, it sets itself apart enough to be considered a great movie.

  4. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012)

    The Madagascar series had a rough start, but I think they achieved perfection (or at least, as close as it will get to perfection) with their final movie. The animals, Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman, are still trying to get back to New York. The penguins have gone to Europe to find a way back, but Alex and the others are tired of waiting, so they go to find the penguins. While in Europe, the zoosters find the penguins while causing a disturbance, and animal control is called. Unfortunatly for the zoosters, Captain Dubois arrives, and she is obsessed with hunting down Alex so she can mount a lion head on her wall. While escaping Dubois, the zoosters come across some circus animals, and Alex tells them that they are also circus animals so they will be safe. The circus is on tour across Europe, so the zoosters decide to stay with them so they can get back to New York.

    While the other two Madagascar films had character development, this one has the best, in my opinion. The main element of the movie is that the circus is old and tired, and the zoosters work to breathe new life and passion into each of the performers. Through hard work, the zoosters help the circus animals rediscover what they loved while learning how great the circus can be. There is conflict when the circus animals discover that Alex and the others are actually zoo animals, but things get resolved in a great way. 

    Like I said before, the series started out with a bad movie, but it ended with one of the best movies that Dreamworks has put out.

  5. Kung Fu Panda (2008)

    Dreamworks had been in a bit of a rut in the years preceeding this movie, but I believe that their Golden Age started here. Kung Fu Panda is the story of a panda named Po living in ancient China. He idolizes the Furious Five, the best kung fu warriors in all of China. One day, the master of the Furious Five decides it is time to find the Dragon Warrior, the one who will save the valley from destruction. It turns out that Po is the one to be chosen, and since a destructive criminal has broken out of prison, Po has to learn fast. 

    This film has a good moral behind it, and it builds up to that message throughout the film, and not in a way that feels forced or contrived. Po has to learn how to be a kung fu master while earning the respect of the Furious Five. Both the Furious Five, their teacher Shi Fu, and the villain Tai Lung believe that Po is worthless because he's just a big fat panda. But Po has to prove that they are wrong while also proving it to himself, which makes for a good conflict. 

    Kung Fu Panda tells a good story while being a great comedy, which is how I feel that it belongs on this list.

  6. Megamind (2010)

    One of the funnier Dreamworks movies, Megamind is a superhero parody. It tells the story of Megamind, a self-proclaimed supervillain who is always battling the hero Metroman. They have been doing battle for years, and Metroman always wins the throws Megamind in jail. But one day, megamind actually wins. He defeats Metroman and takes over the city. But soon he finds that what he really enjoyed was battling Metroman, and without him, villainy is boring. So he decided to invent a new hero to do battle with.

    The most obvious influence for this movie is Superman. Both Megamind and Metroman are aliens from doomed planets and there is a reporter/love interest named Roxanne. All three of them are comfortable with their roles in the superhero game, and the movie focuses on how they adjust to their roles changing. It's probably nothing new, but it does create good drama at points. The movie is also very funny, with a main character that loves to ham it up and chew out the scenery. But Megamind is also sympathetic, which makes him more interesting. Seeing how he deals with having nobody to fight is better than if he were just some plainly evil character. 

    The movie is a good and funny take on the superhero genre, and I feel that it earns a place on the list due to that.

  7. Shrek 2 (2004)

    The film that put Dreamworks on the map was Shrek, so a sequel was put into the works pretty quickly. Shrek 2 is about how Shrek and Fiona are faring as a new married couple. Fiona's parents invite the two to their kingdom of Far, Far Away, but are shocked to learn that Shrek is an ogre and their daughter has become one, as well. So Shrek decides to find a way to make him seem better to everyone, and finds a potion that transforms him and Fiona into humans. But the Fairy Godmother has made a deal with the king that Fiona would marry her son, Prince Charming, and will do anything to make that so.

    This movie continues the Shrek tradition of using old fairy tales and subverting your expectations with them. I feel this movie does it better than the first one. Shrek 2 is also funnier than the first one, with better jokes and character interactions. The movie took a big risk with having Shrek be turned into a human for about half the film, and it paid off. Shrek also has more development here, since he is now a loving husband who just wants Fiona to be happy, even if it means changing himself as well. The Fairy Godmother is a great villain, and she has the power and menace to back up her plan. Like Kung Fu Panda 2, Shrek 2 improved on its predecessor in every way.

  8. The Road to El Dorado (2000)

    Another of the few hand drawn Dreamworks films, The Road to El Dorado tells the story of two theives, Miguel and Tulio, who come across the map to El Dorado, the legendary with of gold. They find their way to the New World and actually do find the city, and the natives end up believing that the two are gods. So the theives decide to pull off the ultimate scam by milking this for as long as they can. 

    While it seems there wouldn't be a lot of conflict in this movie, there actually is. Miguel and Tulio end up arguing about their partnership when each developed different feelings about the city. Miguel wants to stay in the city, and Tulio wants to leave with his new lover. There is also a shaman who finds out that the two aren't actually gods, and works to expose them. This movie also has plenty of good comedy, with Miguel and Tulio bouncing off of each other perfectly. The movie has lots of good comedic timing too, with plenty of good slapstick throughout. This was the first real Dreamworks comedy, and I feel that it's still one of the best.

  9. Puss in Boots (2011)

    Shrek 2 introduced one of the most popular characters in the series, Puss in Boots, who ended up being popular enough to warrant a spin-off film. This movie shows us how Puss lived before meeting Shrek. He used to be a theif-for-hire, and one day he is approaced by an old aquaintance, Humpty Dumpty. Humpty wants Puss' help in finding golden eggs from the land of the giants above the clouds, and Puss reluctantly agrees because he wants to clear his name after being framed for a bank robbery.

    Aside from a couple of references to the Shrek films, Puss in Boots succeeds in being its own film with its own world seperate from the original movies. It continues the series' trend of parodying faity tales while also treating them with respect, and does it better than any of the Shrek movies aside from the second one. Puss was a great character in the other films, and it really shows now that he's the lead. The film creates its own world seperate from the other Shrek movies, which I feel earns it a spot among Dreamworks' best.

  10. The Croods (2013)

    The Croods is the story of a family of cavemen who just go through life being safe and living in a cave. But one night, the daughter Eep comes across a person who tells her that the end of the world is coming (which is actually continental drift), and the family is soon forced to make the journey to a safer location.

    This movie is one of the more family-oriented Dreamworks films, since that's one of the major themes here. Each member of the family has their own role: the protective father, the rebellious daughter, the weird brother and so on. Eep is technically the main character, but I feel that the father, Grug, has a better story. All he wants is to protect his family, even though the journey where they grow to love the world. But he eventually learns to let them have more freedom. The movie is also pretty creative, with a lot of strange and creative plants and animals in this prehistoric world. Every new location makes the movie feel fresh. Even though it has predictable characters, I feel that Grug's struggles earn this movie a top spot.

Dreamworks Animation has made some truely wonderful movies, and I hope they continue to do so. But if you ever find yourselves anxious to see the next Dreamworks film, you can always go back and see one of these great films or one of the other Dreamworks movies.