Among other things, Cannes this year might as well be called the Jeffrey Katzenberg International Film Festival. He’s had his cast and star dragon from How To Train Your Dragon 2 cruising the Croisette looking for paparazzi — and finding them. He’s had his cast, including new Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, working the press. He’s celebrating in style the 20th anniversary of DreamWorks Animation here with a gala World Premiere screening in a prime Friday night Out Of Competition slot in the Grand Lumiere Theatre, where fest topper Thierry Fremaux broke all precedent at this by-the-book festival and personally introduced the film and its players. DWA threw a big bash at Baoli beach featuring a special exhibit of concept art with more than 100 pieces from the film — and the weather cooperated. Perfect night on the Cote d’Azur. On Saturday at noon at the Palais, Katzenberg will be the recipient of a rare Commander of Arts honor presented by the French Minister Of Culture. And best of all he’s getting tons of worldwide publicity in advance of the June 6 launch of the sequel to one of DWA’s biggest hits, and one I think should be a major Best Animated Feature Oscar contender. It really manages to top the 2010 first film in terms of heart, laughs, action and pure exhilaration. And it won a major ovation at its official screening Friday. On top of all that, Katzenberg’s “date” for Saturday’s Vanity Fair party at Hotel du Cap is Harvey Weinstein. Yes, they are going together. “I told him he will be the missus — Mr. and Mrs. Katzenberg,” he laughed.
Fremaux’s remarks were pretty extraordinary as he himself acknowledged the rare breaking of tradition. In introducing a special reel highlight “DWA At 20,” he said, “It is under rather exceptional circumstances that I come up onstage this evening, as DreamWorks Animation is 20 years old this year, and it is an anniversary we would like to celebrate,” he said. Fremaux then recalled his first encounter with Katzenberg, who first called him more than a decade ago and suggested that perhaps he would like to consider an animated film for Cannes – an almost unheard of idea at the time. Shrek screened in Competition in 2001, and the rest is history. Fremaux expressly thanked him as DWA has been back on the Croisette many times since. “These moments of cinema, of laughter, of emotion, of friendship, we owe to one man, who I have the pleasure to welcome tonight — Jeffrey Katzenberg! Jeffrey is American animation. I agree. 20 more years, Jeffrey — 20 more years of animation cinema in Cannes, ” he said.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 was very well received, and early reviews were upbeat. DWA won the first Animated Feature Oscar with Shrek but has been largely overshadowed by Pixar and Disney ever since. Could this be the year? “Come on, Pete, it’s only May,” Katzenberg said when I brought up the subject of Oscar at the afterparty. There’s no question the first Dragon would have won were it not for the Pixar juggernaut of Toy Story 3, which also had a Best Picture nomination and was impossible to beat. That year was an embarrassment of riches. This year, for the first in a long while, Pixar isn’t in the game, and this Cannes launch will bring a lot of attention to the quality of the new film. Can a sequel win? Obviously yes, since it was a second sequel to Toy Story that beat Dragon in 2010. But Katzenberg, clearly in a great mood, just wanted to focus on the moment right now in France and what Cannes means for him and the film. “This is such a fantastic platform,” he said. “You have the entertainment media from all over the world here at one place and one time. We’re able to bring our whole cast together from around the world.”
And will there be a third ‘Dragon’ down the line? Producer Bonnie Arnold who has now brought in the first two says they just finished this one two weeks ago and this was the very first screening of the final finished film. “We just made it. As for a third we have talked about it and hopefully planning on it but Jeffrey said this about this early on. ‘You have to make the movie the best, most satisfying that you can and we’ll figure out what comes next’, ” she said.