Here is the major difference between Pixar and Dreamworks (with a few exceptions):
– Pixar makes films that are singularly natured.
– Dreamworks makes films that are dual natured.
What do I mean by this? When Pixar makes a film, all or nearly all of the elements in it– characters/dialog/jokes/story– are designed to have universal appeal. Anyone from young children to elderly adults can relate and usually understand because these are universal themes that are being explored. Dreamworks on the other hand makes films that simultaneously are trying to appeal directly to children and adults. So they have the juvenile jokes for the kids to laugh at, then they have the innuendo and more sophisticated pop culture shit for the adults to catch on to.
This strategy is fundamentally flawed, because for every movie, only half of the elements will resound with any particular demographic. Notice that while Pixar might have some cultural humor or movie homages, Dreamworks fills nearly every one of their films to the brim with the most modern pop culture references, music choices, and actors. Think about it: you would never see an American Idol spoof scene in a Pixar movie, but can’t you just picture it in one from Dreamworks? And what type of actors does Pixar often cast? Edward Asner, Albert Brooks, Laurie Metcalf. Who does Dreamworks cast? Jack Black, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Pixar makes classic, timeless films. Dreamworks, on average, does not.
There are exceptions to this rule. Dreamworks had made one singularly natured film: How To Train Your Dragon. Pixar has made two that are for the most part dual natured: Cars and A Bugs Life.
Here are the “Stars” of the Dreamworks movies versus the stars of Pixar movies:
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Dave Foley, John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Joan Cusack, Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy (remember what I said about Cars being the exception?), Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ben Burtt, Edward Asner, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton
Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Will Smith, Martin Scorsese, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, William Shatner, Justin Timberlake, Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Reese Witherspoon, Rainn Wilson, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, ay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera.
Both companies do cast celebrities, but whereas Pixar seems to go for interesting characters with unique voices, Dreamworks seems to cast the biggest actors they can find at the moment for which name will look best on the poster. Nothing really wrong with that, in fact that’s the way most hollywood movies work — but classic, timeless motion pictures, as I (rightly or wrongly) believe most Pixar features to be, are rarely if ever cast and designed with marketing at the front of their minds. It’s just one part of an overall flawed approach I believe Dreamworks has.