Extended: Dreamworks continues to bring in the money

Ogres, insects and rodents may not seem like the most appealing or marketable movie characters. DreamWorks Animation has six billion dollars in box office receipts that say otherwise.

The animation branch of DreamWorks SKG may not have been established until 2000, but DreamWorks began producing computer-generated feature films to modest success. From 1997 to 2000, DreamWorks produced three animated feature films (including Antz in 1998 and Chicken Run in 2000), but it wasn’t until 2001’s Shrek that DreamWorks established itself as a powerhouse in animated filmmaking.

“Shrek” is derived from the German word schreck (meaning ‘terror’); so there was reasonable cause for concern when DreamWorks placed its future on the broad shoulders of a disgruntled, big green ogre. In May of 2001, Shrek was released into theaters and not only far exceeded expectations for the studio but completely changed the animation genre. Shrek became the face of DreamWorks Animation.

As Brian Tallerico of ugo.com said, “Mickey Mouse is to Disney as Bugs Bunny is to Warner Bros as Shrek…is to DreamWorks Animation.”

Shrek, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, was a huge success, both critically and commercially (earning a near half billion dollars worldwide). Shrek was based off of a fairy tale book by William Steig and told the story of an ogre who is forced to travel alongside an annoying talking donkey as he attempts to bring back a princess to an evil Lord, all in hopes of regaining his swamp back. Shrek‘s frequent incorporation of pop culture references has become a staple of animated feature films. The success of Shrek made a sequel inevitable, and when Shrek 2 debuted in 2004 it set numerous box office records on its way to earning $920 million worldwide. In 2007, Shrek the Third did not receive the best reviews, but still earned almost $800 million worldwide, thus motivating DreamWorks to keep milking its most popular character for all he’s worth (two more sequels are scheduled to be released over the next four years).

Although Shrek may now be the face of DreamWorks Animation, he is certainly not the only DreamWorks creation of note. In 2004’s Shark Tale, DreamWorks tried to bring the mafia movie genre underwater, set in a world of saltwater fish and sharks. The film told the story what happened when the son of a shark mob boss is killed and a fish named Oscar is found at the scene of the crime.

In 2005, DreamWorks released what would become its next big animated franchise with Madagascar. Madagascar told the story of four animals (a lion, hippo, giraffe and zebra) from New York Central Park Zoo escape, assisted by four trouble-making penguins, and find them in Madagascar. As the third installment of Shrek was in development, Madagascar gave DreamWorks hope that the studio could maintain another franchise. The 2008 sequel, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa continued on from the first film as the four main characters/animals remained stranded on Madagascar and finally attempt to leave the island for New York, only to land in the wilderness of Africa. The two Madagascar films have combined to garner more than $1 billion worldwide, and a third film is tentatively planned for 2012.

Over the three years between the release of the two Madagascar movies, DreamWorks Animation had six films released into theaters. 2005’s Over the Hedge took raccoons, squirrels, skunks and opossums and managed $336 million worldwide. In 2007, renown comedian Jerry Seinfeld co-wrote, produced and lent his voice to Bee Movie, which buzzed its way to $287 million worldwide. Both films were solid hits, but it wasn’t until 2008’s Kung Fu Panda that DreamWorks had a film achieve the level of success of the Shrek and Madagascar films.

At first it seemed as though Pixar’s Wall-E would be the most successful animated film of 2008, and the Pixar film did not disappoint as it earned over $500 million worldwide. However, Kung Fu Panda surprised everyone on its way to earning $632 million worldwide, which not only surpassed Wall-E but also made Panda DreamWorks Animation’s third highest grossing film of all-time. Kung Fu Panda 2 is set to come out in 2011.

The Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu sequels will not be in theaters until 2010, but in 2009 DreamWorks Animation has another potential franchise starter in Monsters Vs. Aliens. Starting with Monsters Vs. Aliens, DreamWorks Animation will be releasing all films in 3-D.