One of the most powerful figures in Hollywood, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was in his 20s when he joined Paramount studios and revived the the defunct Star Trek TV show, turning it into a major theatrical film, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” (1979).
By the time he was 33 years old, Katzenberg was hired by ailing Disney studio in 1984 to become the chairman of its motion picture division. During his 10 year tenure there, he reversed the venerable animation studio’s declining fortunes and shepherded some of the biggest hits in its history, including “The Little Mermaid” (1999) and “The Lion King” (1994).
Following his departure from Disney, Katzenberg founded Dreamworks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in 1994. Under his watch, Dreamworks and Dreamworks Animation released some of the most successful films of the 1990’s and 2000’s, including “American Beauty”, “Gladiator” and “Beautiful Mind.” Gradually, he shifted his focus back to animation, taking charge of Dreamworks Animation and turning it into one of the most successful studios in Hollywood, where he oversaw major hits such as “Ants,” “Prince of Egypt,” “Shrek” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”
In an interview I have conducted with him for my BBC show Alternative Cinema, Katzenberg said that unlike Disney, Dreamworks doesn’t limit its animation to children. “Dreamworks is more of an adult brand than Disney. We have been PG, not G, since the beginning. It’s a balance,” he says.
One of Dreamworks most successful movies, the Oscar-winning “How To Train Your Dragon” was followed by a sequel this year, which will premiere at Cannes Film Festival next month. Katzenberg promises that the sequel is even bigger than the original, which he attributes to the new technology that was used to tell the story.
“We have the newest, most state of the art and mind-blowingly incredible technology that we put in the hands of our animators, and they were able to do in this movie what they were never able to do before. The audience will be able to see a whole new level and quality of acting and emotions on our characters and their faces and their expressions,” he enthuses.
Sequels, however, have been the source of discontent for many of Hollywood’s critics, who regard them as an instrument to ensure commercial profitability at the cost of artistic originality. Katzenberg, on the other hand, insists that making sequels at Dreamworks Animation is driven by creative integrity rather than financial necessity. “Our sequels existed because every one of these movies had multiple chapters that the filmmakers wanted to do from the day they started on the film. When they came with How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders said that there were 3 or even 4 chapters for this story, so we always looked at this as a story that was going to be told over many chapters, over many years.”
Katzenberg admits though that making originals is financially riskier than making sequels, citing his company’s box office failures “Turbo” and “The Guardians.” But that has not inhibited him from taking risks. In fact, this year, Dreamworks Animation is releasing two originals: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” and “Home.”
Releasing 3 animated movies in one year is not an easy task. It takes 4-5 years to make one of these movies. In fact, Dreamworks Animation’s main competitor, Pixar, has failed to release even one movie this year. Unsurprisingly, Katzenberg is all smiles.