Panda-Monium

Posted Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 11:48 AM


How's that for an original title. Oh well.

Dreamworks Animation has, in my estimation, a bit of a chequered history when it comes to originality. Its very first production was 2D, based on the Biblical story of the Exodus of the Jews, better known as the Ten Commandments, and was called Prince of Egypt.

It was pretty good, but a bit dour and dramatic. Not really a movie for kids, though I'm sure they got something out of it. It's one of those Bible myths that probably has a fair amount of truth to it, somewhere amongst the miracles and epic absurdity. If you ignore the talking to God, burning bushes, and parting of the Red Sea, the story comes down to two brothers who diverge in their beliefs and have a bit of an argy-bargy over ruling their people.

Anyhoo, they soon realised that kind of movie wasn't going to bring in the moolah, so they immediately took a leaf out of Disney's book, and headed down a family friendly comedic route.

The Road To El Dorado which was based on the Bob Hope & Bing Crosby "Road To..." movies, was clearly stolen from what Disney had planned originally for Emperor's New Groove (which had started out as the more dramatically themed Kingdom of the Sun).

Sinbad, which wasn't as good as it ought to have been, was very similar in style to Disney's Treasure Planet.

As Pixar started to make a real impact, Dreamworks shifted its focus to CGI animation, believing that those movies make more money than traditional 2D animation. A load of baseless nonsense, of course. Pixar's success is based entirely on great characters in fun stories with hilarious humour. All things that do not impact the style of art used to create them.

But as the CEO of Dreamworks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, used to work for Disney, he had some insight into what was being developed by Pixar. And though he denies it, he clearly was stealing their concepts and then trying to rush them through to release first. I have always resented that about Dreamworks.

Equivalent movies include:
Antz = A Bug's Life
Shrek = Monsters Inc
Shark Tale = Finding Nemo
Madagascar = Into The Wild

Now, plot-wise they aren't really similar (except for that last one) but if you were to hear on the grapevine that Pixar's next film was going to be about fish, or about monsters, then you can definitely believe Katzenberg would then say "Hey, lets do a movie about monsters". Even worse, they have a new movie out in the new year called Monsters vs Aliens and the character design is so similar to Monsters Inc it's highly suspicious. Though it does look like a funny film.

I watched Dreamworks's new feature last night, Kung Fu Panda. It stars Jack Black as a panda who unexpectedly is chosen as being the greatest warrior of legend and prophecy despite being an incompetent clumsy boob. It is an excellent movie. Really funny, brilliantly animated, and highly recommended.

And best of all, as far as all the plagiarising of ideas that I have just accused Dreamworks of partaking in, this is a wholly original concept, that I can only praise them for.

And this is the thing - when they forego the pop culture references, and choose a story that is not based on another company's production, Dreamworks do amazing stuff, the top of their game. Though the sequel is inevitable, I hope they continue to make original product, one-offs like Over The Hedge (admittedly based on an existing comic strip) and Bee Movie, and don't run ideas (like Shrek) into the ground. They deserve better, and deserve to be seen.

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