It’s been a quite day in the animation world.
First the hiring of former Walt Disney/Pixar boss John Lasseter to run Skydance Animation, which received an immediate backlash from Time’s Up and Women and Hollywood over the executive’s sexual harassment history. Now Universal said this afternoon that DreamWorks Animation Group president Chris deFaria, after two years in the position, is exiting the studio in the coming months.
In his place, Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley has promoted DWA TV president Margie Cohn, who will now oversee both film and television operations. The news comes in the wake of the overseas launch of one of DWA’s prized blockbuster and award-winning franchises, the threequel How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. The pic opens stateside on February 22. It’s the studio’s first release since 2017’s Captain Underpants, which was made for $38M and grossed $125.5M worldwide.
There’s been buzz in the DWA-Universal corporate circles for a while that the plan was to unify film and TV under one executive, however, the decision to promote Cohn was came in recent days. She has a winning record, securing distribution deals under Netflix, Amazon and Hulu for DWA, spawning big kids franchises.
“As we look to design the next chapter in DreamWorks Animation’s iconic history, we see opportunity in aligning the film and television businesses under a singular vision,” said Langley. “Margie is a proven executive with the right creative instincts and results-oriented skill set to make DreamWorks an innovative and seamless organization where artists can create original, high-quality content for audiences worldwide. We are grateful to Chris for his contributions and insights over the last couple of years.”
During deFaria’s tenure, he’s seen the completion of that film, the studio’s transition from from Fox to Uni in its distribution deal, the launch of DreamWorks Shorts Program and the opening of the new DreamWorks Theater attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. He will continue to consult with Comcast NBCUniversal on a number of special initiatives going forward.
When deFaria arrived two years ago, he had his work cut out for him, rebuilding DWA in the wake of its former creator Jeffrey Katzenberg. At the top of his agenda was getting How to Train Your Dragon 3, which was in disarray upon his arrival, up and running. deFaria went on to get six productions in motion, specifically rebooting Croods 2. Dragon 3 is off to record DWA opening results in Australia and New Zealand with over $5M. He has the reputation of being a tech savvy executive with a keen sense of emerging technologies. Prior to DWA he served as Warner Bros’ president of Animation and Innovative Technology.
“Over the last five years, I’ve had the privilege to work alongside our studio’s Feature Animation Group, and I have the utmost respect for the deep worlds and endearing characters they have created,” said Cohn. “I am honored that Jeff [Shell] and Donna have given me this opportunity and I look forward to working with the greater DreamWorks creative community and Chris Meledandri, with a shared goal of creating premium family entertainment that is relevant and enduring.”
Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri, who has been working closely with Langley and the Universal team since the studio acquired DWA, will continue to act in a strategic role as senior advisor, supporting all areas of the company. Meledandri is overseeing the reimagining of the Shrek franchise, and Illumination executive Latifa Ouaou is spearheading development on the Puss in Boots sequel.
Meledandri stated: “I look forward to working with Margie and the talented team of artists at DreamWorks Animation to help expand on the rich tradition of character creation, storytelling and artistry that people have come to associate with the studio.”
Cohn will operate the DWA film and television businesses separately, with the movie side planning to release two films a year starting this year with Dragon 3 and and Abominable, a co-production with Pearl Studio. Additional titles in production include Trolls World Tour, Croods 2 and The Boss Baby 2. Trolls, in regards to its merchandising has been a prized property, with spinoff TV series on Netflix and NBC.
Cohn counts more than 20 years in family entertainment. She joined DreamWorks in 2013 at the inception of its TV business. During her tenure, she shepherded Guillermo del Toro’s Emmy-winning series Trollhunters (part of the “Tales of Arcadia” trilogy), The Adventures of Puss in Boots, All Hail King Julien, Dragons: Race to the Edge, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants and The Boss Baby: Back in Business, as well as pop culture hit shows Voltron: Legendary Defender, Spirit Riding Free, Trolls: The Beat Goes On!, Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny and most recently, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Prior to DWA, Cohn spent 26 years at Nickelodeon, where in various development and production roles she helped make the network number one in cable television for 18 consecutive years. Series produced under her guidance while at Nick include Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Fairly Odd Parents, SpongeBob SquarePants, iCarly and the Kids’ Choice Awards in addition to over 20 made-for-TV movies.