OPINION: How DreamWorks Animation’s Corporate Liberalism and Pandering to Tweens Came Back to Haunt Them
As everybody knows, DreamWorks Animation, a company based in Glendale, California, has been in a lot of trouble lately. Their latest film, Penguins of Madagascar (part of the 10-year-old Madagascar franchise), was recently declared a flop, and is now part of a recent losing streak (also joining that losing streak – or group of movies that have flopped at the domestic box office – are Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, and an adaptation of Jay Ward’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman franchise). Apparently, the liberalism of DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, not to mention the studio’s pandering to an audience of pre-teens and tweens (the same audience as TV networks like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel) with pop-culture references that immediately go out of date after 5 years, fart jokes, and toilet humor, are coming back to haunt them in a big way.
In 2004, the animation studio was spun off from what was then a successful independent “mini-major” called DreamWorks Pictures, which was founded in 1994 by Katzenberg, music executive David Geffen, and heavyweight film director Steven Spielberg. The studio had a lot of successful films over the years, including MouseHunt, Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and the animation unit’s first two films, Antz and The Prince of Egypt. In 2001, the animation division saw its first big hit with the fairy tale spoof, Shrek. This began the DreamWorks formula of casting big-name Hollywood liberals and making them the stars of the film rather than the characters they play. The film also began the studio’s countless films that use trends and pop-culture references that go out of date in 5 years in order to be “hip” among their pre-teen and tween audience. Want an example? On the DVD of Shrek 2, there’s a special feature called Far-Far-Away Idol, an obvious spoof of the then-popular American Idol. It might have been funny back then, but in the end, the Shrek franchise has not aged well for audiences outside of kids from the 2000’s.
In 2008 and 2012, Katzenberg donated money to the respective election and re-election campaigns for incumbent President Barack Obama. And that tells you everything you need to know about DreamWorks’ politics. They’ve even used their movies to promote their progressive point of view. In 2009, the film Monsters vs. Aliens featured a gratuitous swipe at the US military with a character called General W.R. Monger (obviously, the name means “warmonger”). Back in 2014, I also talked about the studio letting a character in the film How to Train Your Dragon 2 come out as gay after he witnesses an argument between a husband and a wife. And now, since the market has spoken, DreamWorks posted a $263 million quarterly loss. They’re even having to sell their main headquarters in Glendale to the SunTrust banking corporation. That’s basically what happens when you not only have a target audience of pre-teens as opposed to Pixar where the audience is the entire family (outside of the disappointing Brave, which was nothing but a Disney Channel Original Movie under the guise of a Pixar film), but use your movies to force-feed propaganda to children. It’s time for DreamWorks to come to the realization that their specialty in snark and being “hip” has seen its day, and more timeless films like Disney’s Frozen and Big Hero 6, Pixar’s Toy Story 3, and the upcoming The Peanuts Movie are being seen in droves, and the DreamWorks brand of snark that was borrowed in many Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows no longer works in the theatrical world, let alone many conservatives such as myself are tired of it too.
The situation regarding DreamWorks Animation should be a lesson to many other animation studios and movie studios as a whole. In the film industry, you simply cannot alienate more than half of the population. This also explains why ratings for the Academy Awards are decreasing every year. People are going to movies and watching television much less these days, preferring to cruise the net for content. So, if a movie studio that mainly focuses on animation wants its work to be successful and withstand the test of time (just like the recent comeback Disney’s animated work is getting with films like Big Hero 6 and Frozen), it has to aim at all ages. You can’t just walk away from potential customers or fans. At the end of the day, both ideology and pandering to an audience can hurt you in business, and hurt how the public sees your work.