Dreamworks Animated Franchises, Ranked: From Shrek to Trolls

Dreamworks loves to cash in on the success of their animated films. Many of their biggest hits have gotten sequels and spinoffs that have built several franchises within the company. Whether it’s Shrek or Madagascar, Dreamworks has a large roster of movies and characters that they have built many successful franchises.

While Dreamworks does have a solid track record, not every franchise has remained consistent. Some have narrative issues as the story continues or the quality of each film begins to wane. That being said, Dreamworks has created some franchises that have become iconic with great characters and stories to be invested in. Here is a ranking of the many franchises of Dreamworks animation.

7. The Boss Baby

The Boss Baby has become somewhat of a meme mainly because of its simply bizarre concept. Alec Baldwin voices a talking baby in a suit who comes from a world where babies run a business. Some go to families while others remain in the business world. Baldwin is a boss baby who has come to this world to assess why humans are losing interest in babies.

The first film was not a hit with critics but it did very well at the box office and earned a sequel, The Boss Baby: Family Business. While both of these films rely on mostly childish humor and are often too strange to get invested in, they do have good messages about sibling relationships and how children influence our lives. They are also creative in showing how the imaginative world of kids is very different from what adults see, creating many funny sequences. These movies may not offer much for adults but kids can really enjoy these movies as they are mostly harmless fun.

6. Trolls

Trolls is adorable. That’s the best way to describe this franchise. They’re cute movies with singing troll characters. However, there isn’t a ton of depth to be found within it. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake do a solid job in the lead role and the musical numbers are quite fun, but can often feel a bit outdated with the song choice. The first Trolls is all about finding happiness and doing what makes you happy, whether that’s singing or just being with someone you love.

The sequel Trolls: World Tour actually manages to have an important message in terms of addressing prejudice and being unique. The sequel expands the lore by revealing that the Trolls are split up into different genres, with the rock genre trying to take over and unite everyone in uniformity. It ends by showing that recognizing people’s differences is what unites us and not trying to assimilate everyone into a certain way of living. It’s a strong message especially for a movie where a character farts glitter.

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5. The Croods

The Croods is a creative story about a family trying to survive prehistoric times. This family features the voices of Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, and Catherine Keener. When an industrious stranger introduces them to new survival methods, the father of this family begins to worry about his family losing their undetachable bond.

The sequel, The Croods: A New Age, introduces another family who has developed a brand new way of living that is resourceful and free of danger. It’s a clever way of showing how humanity evolves and how new developments can often be frightening. The Croods franchise is very funny and features a tight-knit family that is easy to root for. Each family member has their own unique skills and character traits that make them easily distinguishable. The stories aren’t the most complex but they’re enjoyable films with likable characters and relatable family drama.

4. Madagascar

The Madagascar franchise is a high-energy, humorous series of movies with a great voice cast that includes Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, and Sacha Baron Cohen. The series focuses on Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo, and Melman the zebra who live in the Central Park Zoo. However, when they break loose, they are sent out into the wild. Each film then becomes a journey for them trying to find a way home while surviving in the wild.

The creators of the Madagascar movies wisely place each movie in a different setting. The first is in Madagascar, the second is in the African savannah, and the third takes place throughout Europe. Each film takes the characters on different paths as Alex seeks a path to stardom while Marty just wants to live free. Then, of course, there is King Julien and the lemurs who are fantastic comic relief characters. There are also the Penguins of Madagascar who play out like a ragtag team that is always trying to pull off a heist. The Penguins of Madagascar even got their own spinoff film and Nickelodeon TV series.

These three movies do connect very well as they pay close attention to where the characters were in the last film and build on their arcs for the next. Each movie still has their own unique vision that brings in new characters, different settings, and different animation styles. The Madagascar films are some of the funniest Dreamworks movies out there and are somewhat underrated.

3. Shrek

In terms of popularity, there is no Dreamworks franchise more popular than Shrek. The franchise has many sequels, holiday specials, and even became a Broadway musical. Shrek and Shrek 2 are two of Dreamworks' best movies. The first Shrek tells a love story about the unlikely relationship between an ogre and a princess. It has great characters including Shrek (Mike Myers), Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). The second film expands the fantasy world seen in Shrek, introduces us to Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), and throws in hilarious jokes that parody classic fairy tales while also providing interesting drama for our characters.

However, Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After do not have the same quality as the first two. The jokes get more immature, the story is more ridiculous, and they get lost in their constant need to mock fairy tales. Shrek Forever After doesn’t really expand the story at all as it just provides Shrek with a vision of what his life would be like without Fiona. While Shrek is the most iconic Dreamworks property, the franchise itself doesn’t remain consistently great.

2. Kung Fu Panda

It’s amazing that these movies are as good as they are because a movie about a panda who does kung fu is somewhat ridiculous. However, these movies understand that it’s ridiculous and completely buy into it. Kung Fu Panda stars Jack Black as Po, a panda who journeys to become the dragon warrior after fate seemingly chooses him. His journey to becoming a kung fu master is difficult but he proves that you can never judge a book by its cover.

These movies are great because each film has an intriguing, emotional story that is easy to become invested in. Each adventure that Po goes on becomes a reflective experience that opens up his backstory and takes him on a new arc that reveals another important aspect of his character. Each film also has great villains who are worthy threats to the dragon warrior. In addition to Black, each film also has a great voice cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, and Jackie Chan. Kung Fu Panda 3 may be the weakest of the trilogy but it still provides a new angle for the franchise to explore. These are awesome family films that not only have emotional moments but also fast-paced, kung fu action.

1. How To Train Your Dragon

In terms of overall quality, How To Train Your Dragon is the best franchise of films Dreamworks has created. Every film manages to expand the universe, create emotional tear-jerker moments, and take likable characters in new directions. At the heart of this series is the relationship between Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless. Toothless is adorable and the bond between him and Hiccup is one that will lift your spirits but also break your heart at times. In addition, there are many likable characters voiced by Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, and Kit Harington.

The animation is wonderful, especially the moments where Hiccup and Toothless fly together. The dragons have creative and unique designs, with new threats and worlds that expand the lore of this world. The villains aren’t the most memorable but that’s mainly because the primary focus is on themes of family and friendship. Toothless and Hiccup are from two sworn enemies but they still managed to unite through a mutual bond. This allows the entire village to look at dragons differently and vice versa; however, not everyone in this world feels the same. These movies are adorable, funny, charming, and absolutely heartwarming. The How To Train Your Dragon trilogy proves that Dreamworks is capable of creating stories and emotional experiences at the same level as Pixar and Disney.

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Ross Tanenbaum (15 Articles Published)

Ross is a freelance writer. Ross is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland with a degree in English and Film Studies. He is a big Disney fan and an action movie junkie. He enjoys writing about the latest breaking news and watching the latest Marvel entry.

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