Animation World Reacts to NBCUniversal's DreamWorks Acquisition: New Industry "Super Player"

The FMX convention in Stuttgart, Germany was abuzz with the news of Universal's DWA acquisition as attendees praised Jeffrey Katzenberg and expressed confidence in Chris Meledandri's ability to lead the animation studio into the future.
Getty Images; Dreamworks
Jeffrey Katzenberg, 'Kung Fu Panda 3'

The news that Comcast's NBCUniversal is acquiring DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion stunned members of the animation and visual effects community, gathered this week in Stuttgart, Germany for the annual FMX convention. While attendees were eager to learn more about what the acquisition would mean for DreamWorks' future, there were immediate words of praise today for Jeffrey Katzenberg's two decades at the helm of DWA, concerns that the animation house that Shrek built might lose some of its identity once it is absorbed by Universal, but also predictions that Illumination's Chris Meledandri, who is expected to be involved in Dreamworks' operations, will prove up to the task.

With Katzenberg stepping away from DreamWorks' animation business to head DreamWorks New Media once the deal is completed later this year, Blue Sky's Steve Martino, director of The Peanuts Movie, observed, "He has a huge legacy in animation from Disney to Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. There are few people who can claim that kind of impact in our industry."

Martino worked with Meledandri before he founded Illumination in 2007, and also said, "I have huge respect for Chris Meledandri. He involved me in Horton Hears a Who before he left to create Illumination. He’s a phenomenal leader, and, like Jeffrey Katzenberg, he’s very passionate about animation.”

“It’s interesting to see this aggregate of powers coming together to create a bigger giant," FMX executive director Jean-Michel Blottiere, told THR. "I can understand the need. It’s a global business and development of digital entertainment is so impressive, you need super players. On the other side, we’re very proud in France of what Illumination Mac Guff [the Paris-based animation house behind Illumination's movies] and Chris Meledandri have achieved and on half or one-third the price [of many studio animated features].

Going forward, Blottiere wondered aloud,“What is [the deal's] impact on storytelling? On moviemaking? We live in an increasingly complex environment, DWA has built a unique culture and I hope the culture of such a studio will be preserved in this merger. DWA was moving toward exploring other areas such as location-based entertainment. There might possibly be new developments that will give them additional resources to keep growing without loosing their identity."

David Morin, FMX program board member who also chairs Hollywood's Virtual Production Committee, praised Katzenberg as "one of the great drivers of the entertainment industry. [DWA] is a great company. It’s amazing how it created so many great characters we love, from Shrek to Kung Fu Panda.” 

Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who directed DWA's most recent movie, Kung Fu Panda 3, which has grossed $504 million worldwide since its release in January, learned of the deal as she stepped off the plane in Stuttgart on her way to an FMX panel in which she participated. Still absorbing the news, she didn't immediately know what it portended for DreamWorks but said, after she takes a break, she'd be open to doing another Kung Fu Panda film. "It all comes down to if there's a reason — the characters, the story," she said.