It was no secret that Dreamworks had been looking for a prospective buyer recently, but this still came out of the blue: the studio was bought by Comcast for $3.8 Billion Dollars, making it a part of the NBCUniversal empire when the deal is finished at the end of this year. At first it was reported that Jeffrey Katzenberg might leave Dreamworks altogether, which is still sort of happening because Dreamworks Animation will be headed by Illumination’s Chris Meledandri, while Katzenberg will be head of Dreamworks New Media, a new branch of the company focused on streaming and television.
Might this really finally be the end of the Dreamworks Animation that was founded in the 1990s as a joint-venture between Jeffrey Katzenberg’s, Steven Spielberg’s and David Geffen’s Dreamworks and Pacific Data Images and had became a strong counterpart to Disney and Pixar in the early 2000s? The original PDI production campus has already been closed with the studio’s huge successes dwindling down and while there have been still a couple of really good movies lately, it’s been more hit and miss and even franchises like How To Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda have taken a decidedly strange turn and seem more like Disney productions than the fresh and bold earlier Dreamworks style.
It’s unlikely that Comcast has bought Dreamworks solely for their movie and television rights, because despite the recent downsizing of their animation department, the studio is still a huge creative force that can’t be just thrown away. What Chris Meleandri is going to do with Dreamworks’ remaining Glendale studio and their subsidies in China and India is anyone’s guess at the moment, but it is safe to say that a lot of animators are polishing up their resumés right now in case of further downsizing. The former Fox Animation CEO – who actually brought BlueSky Animation to the studio and jump-started their successful Ice Age franchise before founding Illumination – is known for a rather ruthless cost-saving management style which could mean even more outsourcing for Dreamworks. As for the movies themselves, the somewhat intellectual and satirical style of Dreamworks might not be coming back since Illumination is firmly on the side of entertainment solely for a young audience – the Despicable Me franchise might be good at bringing the money in, but it’s something Dreamworks would never have attempted.
There’s also a rather strange connection to 20th Century Fox – Dreamworks has a distribution deal with the studio until the end of the year, which is why a lot of their movies appear in promotions alongside the output from BlueSky. This is, of course, going to stop in 2017 when Universal takes over the distribution of all things Dreamworks. The studio has quite a few movies lined up for release in 2016 and 2017, but if those planned releases are even going to happen with the takeover in progress is doubtful. Trolls might be coming in November, but if the trio of Boss Baby, Captain Underpants and The Croods 2 are all going to arrive next year remains to be seen.