For years, Pixar has been considered the leading animation studio, as proven by the accolades and high acclaim the studio has received since it began producing feature-length films in 1995. With over twenty successful projects under its belt, Pixar is known for its signature lovable characters and heartfelt storytelling, which has garnered them a warm reception from the public.
Pixar isn’t the only studio revolutionizing the world of animation, however, as companies like DreamWorks and Illumination have continued to grow over the years and have become true rivals for the Disney subsidiary. Their success has begun rivaling that of Pixar’s in the eyes of the critics and public, who are left wondering whether DreamWorks or Illumination could ever overtake the animation studio.
10 DreamWorks & Its Collaborations With Established Franchises
While Pixar produces mostly original content, DreamWorks isn’t afraid of collaborating with other established franchises to bring their characters to the big screen. Such is the case of films like Captain Underpants and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which are adaptations of well-known children’s novels and cartoon segments, respectively.
DreamWorks also produced a 2016 star-studded film based on the Danish Troll dolls that received a 2020 sequel despite the mixed reviews. Trolls World Tour, the second Trolls film, was a huge hit for the studio during the COVID-19 lockdown as it earned $40 million on its first weekend after its digital release on streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
9 Illumination’s Low-Budget Model Makes Them Millions
Illumination famously—or infamously—employs an outrageously low-cost model for all their projects. Chris Meledandri, president of the company, has explained that this is done in order to prove that there’s no correlation between high budgets and hit animated movies.
In contrast to Pixar’s usual practice of spending over $100 million per film, Illumination tries to keep its budgets closer to $70 million. The first Despicable me movie was made with one of the company’s lowest budgets—a mere $69 million investment that brought Illumination more than $500 million in revenue, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 2010. Whether this frugal approach is worth it is up to the audience, but there’s no denying that Illumination knows how to make money move.
8 DreamWorks’ Risk-Taking Pays Off… Sometimes
Despite receiving critical acclaim and commercial success, Pixar is often criticized for ‘playing it safe’ and refusing to produce content that steps out of the studio’s comfort zone. DreamWorks, on the other hand, has been praised for its risk-taking when it comes to taking on unconventional stories and characters.
This bold approach has proved to be a double-edged sword for the studio over the years, with some out-of-the-box films like Shrek and Monsters vs Aliens being a success with both the critics and the audience, and others like Shark Tale and the highly-memeable Bee Movie being dead on arrival.
7 Illumination & Their Use Of Mainstream Celebrity Voice Acting
Celebrity voice acting has become a phenomenon in itself. While DreamWorks and Pixar also have high-profile Hollywood stars voicing their characters, they’re not as aggressive with their marketing as Illumination, whose mission seems to be to appeal to the widest audience possible by including the most mainstream of A-listers in their projects.
The promotional campaign for the 2016 film Sing, in particular, heavily promoted the extensive voice talent—which included the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlet Johansson—as the film’s main selling point. Illumination has continued using this model to great success, so it’s safe to say they won’t be stopping any time soon.
6 DreamWorks’ Solid Franchises Are Just As Great
DreamWorks is home to some of the most well-known animated film franchises. Starting with the company’s earliest successes, Shrek and Madagascar, DreamWorks has gone on to produce multiple sequels and spin-offs per franchise. Their next few successful movies Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon have also spawned many follow-ups of their own that have earned them critical recognition.
How To Train Your Dragon, in particular, is one of the highest-rated animated franchises of all time, with all three entries having a rating of over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and gaining Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature Film.
Love them or hate them, Minions are Illumination’s biggest bread and butter. The spectacled, yellow creatures first appeared in Despicable me and gained immense popularity that quickly earned them a promotion to studio mascots, representing Illumination in the same way Luxo Jr. represents Pixar.
Since then, Minions have become the kings of merchandise, appearing in video games, books, theme park attractions, and even stationery and food packaging. Their mainstream appeal was such that after starring in several animated shorts, they got their own feature-length film in 2015, a project that, to the dismay of many, earned over $1 billion at the box office.
4 Dreamworks & Its Universal Studios Liaison
As a result of being a subsidiary of Disney, Pixar’s characters have been popping up in Disney parks for years, making them instantly iconic with casual goers and Disney fanatics alike. Seeking a similar opportunity, Universal Studios signed a contract with DreamWorks that allowed the Shrek characters to be used in the Universal Parks and Resorts.
A Shrek 4D experience opened in 2003 to great success, and more attractions created around DreamWorks characters have been built ever since. This positive reception might’ve contributed to NBC Universal’s decision to buy both Illumination and DreamWorks in 2016, making the entertainment conglomerate the owner of two of the three biggest animation studios in Hollywood.
3 Illumination’s Success With The Public… Despite The Critics
It’s no secret that Illumination seems to favor the audience over the critics. The studio has frequently received flak over its low budgets, its character design, and the overall lack of effort beyond the undeniably great animation. Most of its films have earned mixed to negative reviews, with only the first Despicable me holding a rating just above 80% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In spite of the critics’ continuous judgment, Illumination has received a hugely positive response from the public. The studio’s projects are often granted A’s in CinemaScore and are especially well-received by families with younger children, a particularly influential demographic that Illumination has cleverly selected as their main audience.
2 Dreamworks’ Succesful Incursion Into Television
Unlike Pixar, which has just started producing television series exclusively for Disney+, DreamWorks has been making serialized content for various networks for years. The success of The Penguins of Madagascar, which premiered on Nickelodeon after the release of Madagascar, notably pushed DreamWorks into producing spin-off shows within their other franchises.
Following other successful films like Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, DreamWorks commissioned shows for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, respectively. More recently, the studio has been producing several children’s series for streaming services like Hulu, Peacock, and Netflix.
1 Illumination & Its Ventures Into Adaptation
Just like DreamWorks—its fellow NBC Universal division—Illumination has been branching out by adapting content into feature films. So far, the studio has released animated renditions of two popular Dr. Seuss books: The Lorax which premiered in 2012 and had Danny DeVito voicing the title character, and The Grinch, a 2018 adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rashida Jones. Both films were moderately successful, but have found a steady home on streaming platforms.
One of Illumination’s more exciting ventures yet is an upcoming Mario Bros. film made in collaboration with Nintendo. With a 2022 release date, the Mario film could change the game—pun intended—for the animation studio forever, possibly creating a franchise as profitable as Despicable me that could further legitimize Illumination as Pixar’s main competitor.
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5 Ways DreamWorks Is Their Main Rival (& 5 Ways It’s Illumination)