Jeffrey Katzenberg Exits the Stage With ‘Trolls’ and ‘The Boss Baby’ Still to Be Released

DreamWorks Animation will soon launch two promising pictures begun on the executive's watch

Jeffrey Katzenberg Justin Timberlake

For most of his career, Jeffrey Katzenberg has been a passionate and ferocious advocate of animation. His collaboration with the gifted artists yielded classics such as “Shrek” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” Both franchises reflect Katzenberg’s optimism and sense of wonder.

And now, as he moves on from DreamWorks Animation, his legacy at the studio he built will close with two films coming out over the next six months: “Trolls” and “Boss Baby.”

Set for a Nov. 4 release, “Trolls” is staged as a kind of pop-culture dance party that harks back to the vivid legacy of toys on which it’s based — including their bright colors and signature hair “The trolls in this film are like Gummy Bears that had been flocked in velvet,” says co-helmer Mike Mitchell. “In a way we wanted the trolls to be everything that the computer is not — organic and textured.”

In this exploration of the trolls, the creatures must battle the Bergens, who intend to destroy their village. The Bergens also live in a world inspired by 1970s décor, such as shag carpeting and fake rock fireplaces. Ultimately, the trolls aim to show the Bergens that happiness isn’t something they can gain by destroying someone else.

Developed over the past six years, the movie features vocal performances from Justin Timberlake, who is cast against type as a grumpy troll, and Anna Kendrick as an upbeat troll named Polly. Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden, and Gwen Stefani round out the cast.

“I think Justin [Timberlake] loved the idea of playing a troll that couldn’t sing or dance; that was part of why he wanted to do it,” says co-director Walt Dohrn.

Katzenberg connected early to the film’s theme — that happiness is inside everyone, not something external that can be consumed or acquired, and he encouraged the filmmakers to develop the characters in surprising ways.

“Jeffrey really pushed us in making our nontraditional Princess Poppy more audacious and sassy,” says producer Gina Shay. “It’s obvious he saw a lot of himself with her because in his mind there’s nothing that cannot be realized.”

“Boss Baby” is inspired by a picture book called “The Boss Baby” written by Marla Frazee. In the adaptation, a young boy must come to terms with the arrival of a baby brother who has his own secret agenda. The older boy is soon overwhelmed with the fear that there is not enough love left for him now that his sibling is on the scene.

The film brings together Alec Baldwin as the voice of the baby, Patton Oswalt as the narrator, Jimmy Kimmel as the father, and Lisa Kudrow as the mother. Hans Zimmer has signed on to do the score. The film is slated for a March 31 release.

The look of the film refers back to an earlier style of animation that doesn’t aim for a photoreal quality and leans more into a comedic, cartoonish look. While the dialogue penetrates into the heart of the older boy’s insecurities, the ← movie is also full of over-the-top physical humor.

“Jeffrey [Katzenberg] had one big note for us,” says helmer Tom McGrath. “He said, ‘Make me cry,’ so that’s what we tried to do.”
McGrath and producer Ramsey Ann Naito were keen on having the film land in a heartfelt place so they set about exploring family relationships, how they develop and what makes them complicated and painful.

“The story is about brothers learning to love each other,” says Naito. “I think [learning to love each other] is something we all have to do in our families.”

As the film moves forward in its production schedule, this team will have to do so without Katzenberg’s continuing input. Both Naito and McGrath see the animation mogul as a mentor who had a special sense of what audiences want to see and what felt right for the characters in a movie.

“He instilled in me the idea that you fight to the last frame,” says McGrath. “You always kick the tires, you never let yourself be too satisfied.”