James Sims reviews Nicole LaPorte’s new book The Men Who Would Be King: An almost epic tale of moguls, movies, and a company called DreamWorks and agrees with me that of the founding troica, Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, LaPorte gives the latter the worst appraisal of the three. While Katzenberg came off great just five years ago in James Stewart’s book Disney War and in this year’s hagiographic insider-documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty which covers the Katzenberg golden Disney years that yielded his career peak, the $700-million-grossing The Lion King, LaPorte and Sims are both more critical. Here’s Sims:
Following a bitter, and soon-to-be court-contested departure from Disney, Katzenberg found himself trying to kick-start animation at DreamWorks SKG. If he could usher in a new era at Disney, certainly he could work the same magic across town. Or so he thought. LaPorte chronicles the numerous failures Katzenberg faced during the start of his new animation studio… [Antz, The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas]
So what went wrong?
Despite Katzenberg being a cheerleader of traditional animation, he ignored the rest of his Disney schooling, opting instead to fill animated films with celebrities rather than heart — none of Disney’s classics relied on star power. It was the magic of fantastical storytelling, beautiful music, and even the Disney brand that made audiences fall in love with “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and the pantheon of animated masterpieces making up the studio’s rich library.
While I see Sims’ point about Katzenberg relying heavily on celebrities to market his animated features, I’d argue that while DreamWorks Animation’s output can’t compare with the best of Pixar, Katzenberg’s team has produced several stand-outs, among them the first Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, all of which use great voice actors to serve their narratives.