There are two main studios for creating animated family entertainment, and Disney is not one of them (at least, not anymore).
Pixar and Dreamworks are two studios that both create animated motion pictures that manage to simultaneously appeal to both children, and to adults. While previously, anything that was classified as a cartoon was widely thought of as strictly for children (in the West at least), these two studios have managed to turn that onto its head.
Walk into any screening with the titles “Toy Story”, “Megamind”, “Wall-e”, “Shrek”, “Up”, “Monsters VS Aliens”, “The Incredibles”, “Kung-Fu Panda”, etc, and you will find an almost equal number of children and adults. Indeed, when I saw a screening of Toy Story 3, I actually could not spot a single child. This made me smile; finally the stereotype of animation being only appealing to children had dissolved.
The two studios create blockbuster after blockbuster. But both have very different styles.
When you think of Dreamworks, you think of cheeky characters, fun plots, plenty of action, pop-culture references, and films that are not designed to be taken seriously. A Dreamworks film is always loud, silly, and highly entertaining. There’s always a bombardment of gags, and jokes to keep everyone entertained. There is toilet humour to make the kids laugh, and there are always jokes to go over the head of the kids and are designed to make the adults laugh. These movies are loud, rude, and cheeky; this is why they are loved.
Pixar on the other hand take a far more subtle approach. Sure you have jokes and action scenes, but they are not the focus of a Pixar film. Pixar do not aim for your funny bone, they aim straight for your heart. Pixar films contain lovable characters, none-too-risky humour, and an old-fashioned approach to storytelling. These films are high in charm, and intend for you to go through a range of different emotions during a viewing.
In my view, Dreamworks intends to create entertainment, while Pixar intends to create masterpieces. So yes, I personally go for Pixar.
Of cause not everything made my Pixar is a masterpiece. “A Bugs Life” and “Cars” did not rate very high in my mind. However, when Pixar scores, then oh boy do they score!
For a great example of PERFECT filmmaking, look at the opening montage of “Up”. In the first ten minutes, we are introduced to two characters and we immediately fall in love with them. We watch as they grow up together and fall in love. We feel for them, we are charmed by their life. We are given a believable representation of the life of a perfectly normal happy couple as they grow old together. When the montage ends there is tragedy and the audience are fighting back the tears. The film then begins and we see the old widowed man has become a grumpy, cynical, old man, and we cannot help but laugh at him. Sure they could have created a two-dimensional character who gains easy laughs for being a grumpy old man, but after that opening montage we actually FEEL for him. We understand him, and he is more than believable.
Any film that has me charmed, engaged, in tears, and then laughing within 15 minutes is a successful film in my opinion.
While I rate Pixar highest, I still have an appreciation for Dreamworks. Sometimes I do want a film that I can just have a laugh with. Dreamworks sure knows how to make me laugh. I appreciate the pop-culture references, the cheeky humour, the stuff that adults are more likely to get (eg: the fact that Monsters VS Aliens is a gleeful send-up of old 50’s B-movies). While their film are a lot more disposable and feels a little cheap, they are none the less truly entertaining. I also cannot help but feel that younger children with short attention-spans would much prefer Dreamworks more punchy style, than Pixars slower character-orientated stories.
Pixar are not only the better animation studio, but one of the better film-making studios period. Dreamworks, however, should still not be shaken off.