This is the kind of news that is surprising to most film fans, but not very surprising to industry insiders: DreamWorks Animation and lifetime partner Paramount are breaking up. Or, rather, they're most likely breaking up as DreamWorks Animation hasn't found a new distribution partner to shack up with just yet, but Paramount has already created a brand new animation division, titled simply Paramount Animation, to supply them with new family fare once their contract with the studio is over at the end of 2012.
The reason this news is surprising to us outsider film fans is that it's hard to see any warning signs when looking at the DreamWorks Animation/Paramount track record. We're talking about a relationship that gave the world Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens and Megamind. Not only are those all highly enjoyable, and some of them even legitimately great, films, but they're also insanely profitable. The Shrek series alone made Paramount well over a billion dollars richer, but apparently DreamWorks Animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg hasn't been happy with the terms of their creator-distributor relationship and has been actively seeking new opportunities once their contract expires.
Paramount even offered the animation studio a temporary, one-year extension on their deal, but it doesn't look like DWA will be taking it. According to Deadline, Katzenberg and company are currently courting a team-up with Warner Bros. -- something they've unsuccessfully tried to do in the past, so hopefully it goes better this time around. We'd hate to see the studio that showed a marked upswing in recent quality with How to Train Your Dragon fade into the sunset because of contract terms.
As for Paramount Animation, their new goal is to create animated films with a budget of "up to $100 million." That's actually not a very encouraging figure when you consider that animation is one of the most expensive arenas of filmmaking to enter, and that animated films regularly cost well over $150 million to make (and are closer to $200 million if you're Pixar). It's always easy to spot the quality difference between a Shrek 2 and a Gnomeo & Juliet, so it's disappointing to see Paramount Animation working with a self-inflicted handicap right out of the gate. But hey, where we see a limitation, the studio sees an opportunity to be, "nimble, creative and innovative." We hope that ends up being the case.