DreamWorks Animation History: From ‘Antz’ to ‘Shrek’ to Comcast

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s company has enjoyed a rollercoaster ride over the years

DreamWorks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg
Getty Images, DreamWorks logo

DreamWorks Animation has enjoyed a roller coaster ride since its inception in 1994.

Founded by director Steven Spielberg, former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and music mogul David Geffen., the studio had had its shares of hits and misses over the years. DWA won Hollywood’s first Oscar for Best Animated Feature with “Shrek” and has launched a total of five film franchises so far, and yet it has struggled in recent years, often finding itself in Pixar’s shadow.

With two of its founders focused on other pursuits, DreamWorks Animation has been forced to reconfigure itself under the leadership of Katzenberg, who has been actively shopping the studio in recent years.

Join TheWrap on a trip down memory lane and remember, the last chapter of this book has yet to be written, as a $3 billion deal with Comcast looms in the distance.


Oct. 12, 1994 – DreamWorks Animation is founded by director Steven Spielberg, former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and music mogul David Geffen.

Oct. 2, 1998 – DWA produces its first feature, “Antz,” featuring an all-star voice cast including Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez and Sylvester Stallone. It is the second feature-length computer-animated movie following Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story.”

Dec. 2, 1998 – The company releases its first Oscar winner, “The Prince of Egypt,” which takes the Best Original Song award for its Whitney HoustonMariah Carey duet “When You Believe.”

May 18, 2001 – DWA releases “Shrek,” which goes on to gross $484 million worldwide and win the Academy’s first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The studio’s first franchise is born.

May 19, 2004 – DWA releases its most expensive film yet, “Shrek 2.” It proves to be worth the gamble, as the sequel pulls in $919 million worldwide, proving the first film’s success was no fluke.

Oct. 27, 2004 – DWA is spun off into a publicly traded company with Katzenberg in charge, and Spielberg and Geffen reduced to investors and consultants.

May 27, 2005 – The company launches its second franchise with “Madagascar,” which pulls in $532 million worldwide.

Oct. 7, 2005 – After partnering with Aardman Animations on the 2000 release of “Chicken Run,” DWA reteams with the British studio on “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” which goes on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature the following year. It remains the last DWA title to win that award, though six other films have been nominated in the category since then. Overall, DWA has had 11 movies nominated for the Academy Award and won two of those Oscars.

Jan. 31, 2006 – DWA enters into a distribution agreement with Paramount Pictures, which acquired DWA’s former parent company and distribution partner, DreamWorks SKG.

Oct. 3, 2006 – DWA ends its partnership with Aardman prior to the release of “Flushed Away,” citing “creative differences.” The companies had signed a five-film deal, though only three films came out of the arrangement.

March 13, 2007 – DWA announces it will release all of its films in stereoscopic 3D, beginning with “Monsters vs. Aliens.” The company even teams with Intel to co-develop a new 3D film-making technology, InTru3D.

2008 – DWA extends its production pipeline into India, establishing a special team of animators who begin contributing to DreamWorks projects, including the 2011 film “Puss in Boots.”

June 6, 2008 – DWA unveils its third franchise, “Kung Fu Panda,” which quickly becomes the company’s most successful release outside of the “Shrek” franchise.

March 26, 2010 – DWA launches its fourth franchise, “How to Train Your Dragon,” which becomes the company’s most successful film outside of the aforementioned three franchises. A second film arrives in June 2014, with a third slated for release in June 2018.

June 2010 – DWA announces that its popular characters Shrek, Po the Panda and the Penguins of Madagascar will be part of the DreamWorks Experience, a package including shows, dining and meet-and-greets for children, that will be available on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

Feb. 17, 2012 – DreamWorks Animation launches Oriental DreamWorks, a joint venture with several Chinese investment companies that aims to develop and produce original Chinese animated and live-action content for distribution within China and worldwide. The company will also produce live entertainment content, theme parks, games and consumer products. Today, DWA owns 45% of Oriental DreamWorks.

July 2012 – With a bid of $155 million, DWA acquires Classic Media and renames the company DreamWorks Classics. Its portfolio includes “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Richie Rich” and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” the latter of which is adapted for film less than two years later.

August 2012 – DreamWorks Animation signs a five-year distribution deal with 20th Century Fox for both domestic and international markets. “Rise of the Guardians” is the last film under its distribution deal with Paramount,” while “The Croods” kicks off its partnership with Fox.

February 2013 – DWA announces that “Me & My Shadow,” originally slated for release on March 14, 2014, is being reconceived and returning to development. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” takes over its release date.

March 22, 2013 – DWA releases “The Croods,” which becomes the studio’s fifth franchise. It, too, becomes the company’s most successful film outside of its four earlier franchises. A sequel is scheduled for December 2017.

April 11, 2013 – DreamWorks Animation announces it has acquired the intellectual property for the popular “Trolls” franchise. A movie featuring the voices of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick is slated for release on Nov. 4, 2016.

May 1, 2013 – DWA announces its intent to purchase YouTube channel Awesomeness TV. A deal is finalized later that month. Today, Awesomeness is valued at $650 million, making it a very attractive asset and a sweetener in any potential Comcast deal. DWA currently owns 51 percent of the company.

September 2014 – Reports emerge that Japan’s SoftBank is in talks to acquire DWA for $3.4 billion, though the offer is reportedly withdrawn the following day.

November 2014 – Hasbro emerges as the latest suitor for DreamWorks Animation, though two days later, those discussions are also reported to have fallen through.

December 2014 – DWA announces its intention to enter the TV broadcasting business with the launch the DreamWorks Channel in August 2015. The company also sells a 25 percent stake in Awesomeness TV to the Hearst Corporation for $81.25 million, putting a $325 million valuation on Awesomeness.

Jan. 5, 2015 – DreamWorks Animation announces that “How to Train Your Dragon” producer Bonnie Arnold and “Madagascar” producer Mireille Soria will serve as co-presidents of the studio’s feature animation division. At the same time, the company announces that Bill Damaschke will step down from his position as chief creative officer.

Feb. 24, 2015 – DWA reports a $155 million write-off that is primarily related to primarily related to unreleased films, including “B.O.O.” and “Monkeys of Mumbai.” “B.O.O.” was originally set to be released on June 5, 2015 by 20th Century Fox, but it was pulled from DWA’s release schedule on Nov. 17, 2014.

Jan. 29, 2016 – DWA releases its 32nd feature film, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which grosses over $500 million worldwide. It is the company’s first film to be released in January.

April 26, 2016 – Reports emerge that Comcast is in talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3 billion despite the fact that Comcast-owned Universal Pictures already has a successful animation unit in Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment.