Despite Four Shrek Films, History Will be Kind to Jeffrey Katzenberg – Animation Scoop

Despite Four Shrek Films, History Will be Kind to Jeffrey Katzenberg

This week Jeffrey Katzenberg said goodbye to the studio he founded. Evaluating the full impact of Jeffrey Katzenberg over the past three decades will take years. The animation industry loses a true cheerleader whose legacy has barely been formed but finds itself without an immediately apparent replacement.

Katzenberg’s live-action background didn’t exactly prepare him for his new role at Disney, where he arrived as part of the management shake-up of the early 1980s. The reason behind his infamous request for ‘outakes’ from the feature then in production, The Black Cauldron, he nonetheless stuck around and became the model disciple of all things animated.

Despite that ominous start, Katzenberg has been nothing but a cheerleader for animation. His studio employs hundreds of artists, keeps Pixar honest, and makes pretty decent films to boot. It was built from scratch too!

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Katzenberg’s legacy will also, ultimately, outshine John Lasseter’s. Yes, that’s a bold statement to make, but the former will earn his place in the history books for not only helping turn Disney around, but also growing a studio from scratch into a serious industry powerhouse without significant assistance. DWA may not have the same creative legacy as Pixar, but history is kind to those who embody the idea of hard work and dedication.

What if Katzenberg had packed it in after leaving Disney, or returned to live-action? Things would certainly look different today! His bet on CGI was a key decision because it legitimised a style that had been the sole domain of Pixar. He displayed his willingness to take a risk in the hope it would pay off. It did, and the prevalence of CGI animation today could well be attributed to the aftermath of that decision.

Above all else, what ought to bear thinking about now that he’s gone, is that Jeffrey Katzenberg was dedicated to animation in a way that lots of entertainment folks are not. Many say they are, but they either do animation as a side gig, or diversify into live-action the first chance they get. His company may dabble in new media these days, yet it remains committed to animation more than ever.

DreamWorks was also the first major studio to ink a first-run deal with Netflix; years before Disney. The studio now makes content exclusively for that service which remains rare in Hollywood. Pundits laud Lasseter as the contemporary Walt Disney but Katzenberg is the true successor to that title as he proved willing to innovate in order to secure future success for his company.

Even for all the guff that he and his studio received for milking sequels, at least he was upfront about it. Such honesty is refreshing and will be missed the next time we hear that a studio is making a sequel not for the money as DreamWorks is happy to do, but because they ‘have a great story to tell.’

Now that DreamWorks is part of the larger Comcast conglomerate, there are a lot of questions being asked and a lot of concern about how the new team will run things. Fear of the unknown is part of the reason, yet the degree of admiration that most of his staff has for Katzenberg is telling.

I would have preferred to see him stick around a while longer, but given all he’s accomplished, I’m glad that Jeffrey Katzenberg has played an important role for as long as he has. Animation as an industry and artform in America is in a great place because of his actions and efforts to make things work. We may be headed for uncharted waters, but the ride we’ve just been on has been a good one.

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Charles Kenny

Charles Kenny

Being tall, Irish and a civil engineer by trade, Charles stands out in the animation crowd, hence his position as the Animation Anomaly.
Charles Kenny
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  • “Such honesty is refreshing and will be missed the next time we hear that a studio is making a sequel not for the money as DreamWorks is happy to do, but because they ‘have a great story to tell.’”

    Speaking of sequels, i remember seeing some pitch materials for Finding Dory, and it was basically all about how popular/profitable Nemo remains compared to other older Pixar films. Just saying…

  • True, but internal pitch materials are not the same as what’s advertised to the public. The marketing campaign for Finding Dory placed a heavy emphasis on how it took Stanton thirteen years to come up with a suitable story for a sequel. A ‘story’ that’s at odds with the reality that you mention. DreamWorks would announce a sequel (or three) immediately after a film became a hit without being shy about why they were doing so.