DreamWorks outshines rivals in star power

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The Independent Culture

DreamWorks, the Hollywood studio set up by Steven Spielberg and the producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, has intensified its war on the rival Disney corporation by announcing plans for major investment in new productions.

At a Cannes launch that out-did even Troy for glamour, the studio unveiled Shrek 2 and announced that in future it would be deploying two computer animations a year.

It is a serious threat to Disney, where Katzenberg was formerly chairman, particularly now that Disney has parted company with the computer animation studio Pixar - which made the filmsToy Story and Finding Nemo.

DreamWorks is using this year's festival to promote its animation output aggressively. It launched the forthcoming Shark Tale with a photo opportunity that had Angelina Jolie, Will Smith and Jack Black riding an inflatable shark in the sea. The studio has another film in competition, the Japanese animation Innocence, which it is releasing in the US through its specialist label Go Fish.

The animal fantasy Madagascar and the new Wallace and Gromit film will be released in 2005, and two further Shrek films are planned.

If Shrek was a controversial Cannes selection in 2001 as the first animation in competition for nearly 30 years, Shrek 2 is even more so; as Katzenberg pointed out, this was the first time that the competition had invited an original film and its sequel.

DreamWorks yesterday displayed formidable star power. The Shrek 2 press conference was attended by its voice-over stars Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Eddie Murphy, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders and Julie Andrews.

Warmly received in its press show, Shrek 2 offers a solid consolidation on the first film, which grossed more than $475m (£270m) worldwide. The sequel takes the ogre couple Shrek and Fiona to a land Far Far Away modelled on Los Angeles, and features spoofs on Spider-Man, The Lord of the Rings, the Oscars ceremony and the Disney animation canon.

The assembled cast gave an amiable if uncontroversial press conference. Diaz discreetly declined to answer a veiled question about her relationship with the pop star Justin Timberlake (the subject of a sly in-joke in the film in which Sir Justin appears in a poster within the movie), while Julie Andrews played the Brit card by saying how much she had enjoyed working with John Cleese, who also does a voice-over: "I worked for a day with him - we laughed a lot, talked a lot and drank a lot of cups of tea."

Katzenberg was notably discreet about any rivalry: "This is all about our own ambition and our love of animation, it isn't about what anyone else is doing. For sure, Pixar continues to be the gold standard for computer animation. We love to be able to follow in their footsteps - they started it."

However, Cannes did not entirely belong to Hollywood. The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, a previous Palme d'Or winner, offered a piece of radical minimalism, Five. His gesture is not just aesthetic but political; in his other film here, 10 on Ten, he argues: "The presence of American cinema in the world could cause more problems than its military presence." Jonathan Nossiter's documentary Mondovino, about the globalisation of the wine industry, could also be read as an implicit attack on Hollywood.

Further dissent from the showbiz agenda came yesterday in the form of a demonstration by France's part-time cultural workers, the "intermittents du spectacle", protesting against changes to unemployment benefit. The French film-makers' body SRF announced that all French directors in Cannes had agreed to take part, while others, including Jean-Luc Godard and Ken Loach, had pledged support. The demo was highly visible in a year notable for intense security, with riot police already highly conspicuous in the streets around the festival centre, the Palais.