Summary

  • DreamWorks and Illumination have surpassed Disney and Pixar in terms of box office success over the past decade, with films like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Super Mario Bros. Movie proving their ability to draw crowds.
  • Disney and Pixar have struggled to achieve high box office numbers recently, with flops from Pixar and disappointing returns from Disney’s other releases. Their reliance on Frozen and Toy Story sequels and lack of other popular series is notable.
  • DreamWorks and Illumination have done a better job at keeping up with their original franchises, producing successful sequels and spinoffs that maintain excitement. Disney and Pixar could learn from this approach.


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Disney and Pixar often come to mind when discussing animated movies, but DreamWorks and Illumination are the studios that have dominated the medium over the last decade. It makes sense that so many moviegoers’ minds jump to the former studios when thinking of animated releases. After all, Disney and Pixar have put out some of the most iconic animated movies of all time, from The Lion King to Toy Story. However, while they’ve continued to tell stories in recent years, DreamWorks and Illumination have surpassed them numerous times.

DreamWorks and Illumination have delivered some of the most successful releases of the decade as Disney and Pixar struggled. Disney has had a few successes over the past 10 years, but it’s also faced numerous flops, especially when it comes to Pixar. Although Pixar is the studio behind many beloved movies, its performance in recent years is worrisome — especially when one looks at how well competitors have fared during the same time period.

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DreamWorks & Illumination Had More Success Than Disney & Pixar The Past 10 Years

Mario and Luigi from The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Disney and Pixar have struggled to hit high box office numbers since the COVID-19 pandemic, while movies like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Super Mario Bros. Movie have proven that DreamWorks and Illumination can draw crowds. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is one of just six films to make more than $1 billion at the box office since 2020, and it nearly dethroned Frozen 2 as the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Its success bodes well for Illumination’s future, while The Last Wish‘s impressive $481 million box office — and that’s with a speedy streaming release — promises big things for DreamWorks.

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Frozen is perhaps Disney’s biggest success of the last decade, but the studio’s lack of other popular series is telling. While DreamWorks pumps out new Shrek spinoffs, more Despicable Me and Minions movies, and yet another Kung Fu Panda, Disney is counting on more Frozen sequels to stay afloat. Disney’s Wish has seen disappointing box office returns, and its live-action projects like The Little Mermaid and Haunted Mansion haven’t fared much better. Meanwhile, Pixar has had multiple box office bombs in the past few years, and not even a Toy Story spinoff with Captain America star Chris Evans voicing the title character was able to turn things around.

Lightyear‘s box office failure was telling when it came to the state of the animation studio. However, Pixar’s original releases like Turning Red, Onward, and Soul didn’t perform much better. Sure, several of them faced pandemic-era struggles. However, that didn’t stop DreamWorks and Illumination from making a comeback when theaters reopened. Only Elemental managed to turn things around for Pixar, and there’s no telling whether that’s permanent.

What DreamWorks & Illumination Has Done Better Than Disney & Pixar

Buzz Lightyear's head superimposed over the Disney castle.

Putting Disney’s and Pixar’s failures side by side with DreamWorks and Illumination’s successes, there are a couple things the former studios could do better. For one, Disney’s approach to Pixar movies — which saw most of them released on Disney+ after 2020 — has taken away part of what made Pixar releases so exciting. Pixar films like Toy Story and Finding Nemo used to be events, prompting moviegoers to head out to theaters and watch them. Now audiences are starting to associate Pixar movies with streaming — and potentially with a lesser quality.

DreamWorks also does a better job at keeping up with its original franchises, ensuring that sequels and spinoffs keep the excitement going long after the first successful movie debuts. While Disney is certainly doing this with Frozen and Toy Story, it’s a wonder the studio hasn’t bothered to release a Moana or Encanto sequel to capitalize on either movie’s success. Likewise, several of Pixar’s biggest hits don’t have multiple sequels and spinoffs. Another Incredibles movie would undoubtedly turn the studio’s box office woes around, as would anything involving Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, or Wall-E. Even Elemental 2 isn’t confirmed yet despite a sequel being in high demand.

Will DreamWorks & Illumination Continue Their Animation Dominance?

Although Disney and Pixar could have a comeback, DreamWorks and Illumination have many exciting releases on the horizon. As such, it’s likely both studios will maintain their animation dominance, performing as well as — if not better than — Disney and Pixar. Kung Fu Panda 4 and Shrek 5 alone are enough to keep DreamWorks at the top, and Illumination has ample opportunity if it adapts more Nintendo IP. The Super Mario Bros. Movie 2 would be a promising addition to its lineup, as would an animated Kirby or Animal Crossing movie. With their built-in fan bases, such projects would prove a threat to Disney and Pixar even if they weren’t struggling.

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