Content Warning: The following article contains spoilers.The 1990s saw the rise of two other animation companies that have since challenged Disney’s monopoly on the industry: Pixar and DreamWorks. While Pixar exists as a company under the umbrella of Disney, DreamWorks struck out on its own until being acquired by Universal. They established their brand on a platform of being anti-Disney, which brought them great success in the early 2000s.

RELATED: DreamWorks Animated Movies That Are Better Than Most Disney Ones

As time has gone on, DreamWorks has continued to win audiences over thanks to the amount of heart and care put into their movies. The best DreamWorks protagonists in particular tend to have very strong personalities and character writing, allowing audiences to empathize with their situation and cheer when they succeed.

Updated on January 12th, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

The DreamWorks heroes and protagonists that fans know and love only seem to be getting better with each new film, with the latest from the acclaimed studio, Puss from Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, exceeding expectations.

10/10 Turbo – ‘Turbo’ (2013)

Available to stream on Peacock Premium.

Turbo the racing snail

Living in a tomato garden, Turbo spends his evenings watching racecar VCRs and dreaming that one day he will be able to race alongside the best. This mindset often gets him in trouble with the other snails, including his older brother. However, after gaining super speed in a freak accident, his dream seems more like reality.

Turbo does little to deviate from the plucky underdog story, but it’s still a fun ride thanks to the titular character. Even though Turbo has confidence in himself, it’s not unwavering. When he screws up, it weighs heavily on him, but thankfully he surrounds himself with supportive friends who can pick him up when he’s down.

9/10 Zee – ‘Antz’ (1998)

Available to stream on Peacock Premium.

Zee and Princess Bala from Antz

In DreamWorks’ first film Antz, Woody Allen plays an ant who is struggling to find his individuality in a colony of millions. While drowning his sorrows at the bar, he overhears an ant talk about the mythical Insectopia where all bugs can live their own life. He also has a chance meeting with the colony’s princess and becomes smitten.

Zee was an interesting choice for a first protagonist. While he fits the archetypical underdog in most kids’ films, Allen plays him as a frantic character who spouts off plenty of quick jokes for older audience members. His struggle against themes of individuality and conformity are themes that anyone can relate to, made even more interesting since ants are literally expected to give their lives for the good of their colony.

8/10 Moses – ‘The Prince of Egypt’ (1998)

Available to stream on Peacock Premium.

Moses from The Prince of Egypt

As the pharaoh commands the death of a child from every Jewish household, one mother sends her child down the river, where he is adopted by the pharaoh’s wife. He grows up a prince until one day he learns the truth of his heritage and runs away. Out in the desert, he finds a new life that eventually brings him into contact with God.

The story of Moses has survived for thousands of years, and DreamWorks’ version of The Prince of Egypt is one of the best adaptations. It focuses more on Moses’ struggle to do what is right even if it means making an enemy of his brother, Ramesses. A lot of this is thanks to Val Kilmer‘s amazing voice work, especially when he shifts from an arrogant prince into a humble shepherd.

7/10 Jack Frost – ‘Rise of the Guardians’ (2012)

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

Jack Frost from Rise of the Guardians

Jack Frost from Rise of the Guardians lives a rather lonely existence. He doesn’t remember his own past and the children of the world can’t see or interact with him. As such, he chooses to live a carefree lifestyle spreading chill and winter fun until his fellow holiday icons come to recruit him to stop the Boogeyman.

Jack has one of the strongest hero-villain dynamics in all of DreamWorks. Both he and Pitch Black the Boogeyman want to be accepted by society, which they have been ostracized from due to their powers. Where they differ is that Jack wants to spread joy and encourage others to find ways to have fun, while Pitch wants to control others through fear.

6/10 Yi – ‘Abominable’ (2019)

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

Yi from Abominable

After the death of her father, Yi dedicated herself to gathering enough money to travel across China as he’d wanted to do with her. This pursuit saw her push away friends and family, and she stopped playing the violin for others. However, this all changes when she finds a young Yeti trying to get back to Mt. Everest.

While Yi’s drive to fulfill her father’s dream is commendable, it’s also a cautionary tale about how unresolved grief can cause people to isolate themselves. In working so hard towards her goal, she denies what she really needs: love and support in order to begin to heal. Abominable illustrates this through a moving sequence where, after confessing to her friends, her violin receives a magical improvement.

5/10 Po – ‘Kung Fu Panda’ (2008)

Available to stream on HBO Max.

Po as he appeared in Kung Fu Panda 3

When the Valley of Peace is threatened in Kung Fu Panda, Kung-Fu Master Oogway declares that it is time to choose the Dragon Warrior. To everyone’s surprise, he chooses Po, a panda who works in his father’s noodle restaurant. Despite everyone claiming Oogway was mistaken, Po tries his best to become the warrior everyone needs.

Po’s greatest strengths are his enthusiasm and humility. He loves everything about Kung Fu and knows that he is among masters who have practiced the craft, so he never brags about his position and constantly praises their accomplishments. This attitude helps Po pick himself up after every loss and realize the unique potential within himself and others.

4/10 Megamind – ‘Megamind’ (2010)

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

Megamind and Minion victory walking through the streets of Metro City.

Two alien planets were destroyed by a black hole, and both sent a single child to Earth in Megamind. One was showered with praise and adopted the title of Metroman, protector of Metro City. The other was shunned and punished, so he decided to use his intellect to become the greatest supervillain, Megamind.

Megamind sees villainy as his job because he was never given a chance to be good, so he performs it with unmatched style and flare. This makes him more like a wrestling heel: it’s just a performance full of witty banter and theatrics. When it seems like he has finally won, he loses purpose in his life, which sets him down a path to re-invent himself.

3/10 Hiccup – ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (2010)

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

Hiccup and Toothless as they appear in How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

In order to prove himself to his father, Hiccup creates a machine that is able to bring down the most dangerous of dragons around the mythical Viking village, a Nightfury. When he goes to finish the job, he discovers that the dragons aren’t as vicious as his people originally believe. Over time, he and the dragon, named Toothless, change both species’ ways of life.

Each film in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is another major leap in Hiccup’s story. He goes from being a scrawny kid who nobody thinks can amount to anything to a capable chief that forges a lasting friendship between former enemies. It’s a strong story of overcoming both prejudice and your own inherent shortcomings.

2/10 Puss – ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ (2022)

Available to rent on Apple iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play Movies.

Puss in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Image via DreamWorks

In Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the usually-badass Puss discovers that he’s just as vulnerable as everyone else after learning he has used up most of his nine lives. Pursued by Goldilocks, “Big” Jack Horner and DreamWorks’ best villain yet, Wolf, Puss must embark on a dangerous quest to find the mythical Last Wish that can potentially give him back his nine lives.

Along the way, audiences learn that Puss’ stressful journey feels so familiar because it embodies a universal fear of death (literally, with the shocking reveal that Wolf is actually Death itself). It’s impossible not to root for Puss in his most complex and relatable portrayal yet, which makes the emotional highs and lows of the film that much more enjoyable.

1/10 Shrek – ‘Shrek’ (2001)

Available to stream on Peacock Premium.


Deep within a fairytale kingdom lies the swamp home of the ogre, Shrek. His life of solitude comes to an end when he encounters a talking donkey and then a host of fairytale creatures who were evicted from their homes in 2001’s Shrek (which would go on to spawn numerous Shrek movies and specials). This sets him on a quest to regain his privacy by rescuing a princess from a dragon-guarded tower.

Along with his dry humor, Shrek is engaging because of the tragedy of his character. He is so used to being judged as a monster before anyone gets to know him that he would rather live alone. This has also led to him developing some unhealthy defense mechanisms, which unfortunately cause him to jump to conclusions about others.

NEXT: Every Movie in the ‘Shrek’ Universe, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes


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