On April 5, 2004, Variety wrote about DreamWorks Animation and the team behind the “Shrek” movies under the headline “The Green Machine.” Katzenberg told reporter Geoffrey Berkshire, “My job is to be team captain — to try to be everybody’s biggest cheerleader and helpful critic.”
He’s been a captain for more than three decades. He wasn’t always in animation: After years of working in live-action, Katzenberg moved to Disney in 1984 and was charged with beefing up the toon unit.
At that point, the studio’s animation legacy was moribund. Starting in 1981, Disney had a four-year gap with no animated features; in 1985, it released “The Black Cauldron,” followed by “The Great Mouse Detective” and “Oliver & Company.”
Under Katzenberg, a renaissance began. First with “The Little Mermaid” (1989), then “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), and “Aladdin” (1992). They became instant classics.
Then on Oct. 13, 1994, Variety led with the banner story “Troika Sets Town Atwitter.” It was about the creation of DreamWorks (before the company had a name, and before twitter meant something else).
At DreamWorks Animation in 2001 “Shrek” became the first animated movie at the Cannes Film Festival in nearly 50 years. It also won the very first feature-animation Oscar.
And with his continued love for animation, Katzenberg proved what too few Hollywood executives had realized: Animation wasn’t just a Disney thing, it’s not just for kids, and it’s not a genre, but an alternative way of telling the stories that movies are made of.