Since 2001, the #Shrek franchise has spawned four feature length movies, one major spin off, five short films and a television series: It is one of the highest grossing franchises of all time, banking $3.5 billion worldwide, and pulls in some of the biggest names in Hollywood. With a fifth movie scheduled to hit theaters at the tail end of this decade, the success of the next installment is as predictable as the ogre's next fart joke — however, back in 1996, as far as #DreamWorks was concerned, this project was as ugly and unwanted as its protagonist.
Dubbed the "ugly stepchild" of the studio's animation wing, the low-budget project was essentially a graveyard of animators who'd been sent there after failing on Prince of Egypt — a DreamWorks picture that flopped in 1998. In a tell-all book courtesy of Nicole Laporte titled The Men Who Would be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies and a Company Called DreamWorks, one particular illustrator revealed that working on the feature was known as "being Shreked," or:
“It was known as the Gulag. If you failed on ‘Prince of Egypt,' you were sent to the dungeons to work on ‘Shrek.’"
And, considering the run of luck Shrek and DreamWorks were dealt in the movie's nascent years, it's hardly surprising they were less than complimentary. Here's a summary of the two major things that went wrong:
1. Chris Farley's Death
As many of you probably already know, before Mike Myers was cast as the titular Shrek, beloved Saturday Night Live alum Chris Farley was bagged to play the lead — his looks and mannerisms apparently greatly inspired the character as we know him today. Animator Tom Sito said:
“I found [Farley’s] wild energy exhausting but really funny. He was constantly flushed, bouncing off the walls, sweating heavily and looking like he was about to burst out of his clothes.”
Co-illustrator Ken Harsha agreed, claiming that Farley was "the perfect role model." And, while that's hardly the most flattering compliment on the planet, the similarities are certainly there. However, tragically it was never to be. 18 months after Farley had been tapped, he fell victim to a lethal mix of cocaine, morphine and heart disease.
You can get an idea of how different the movie would've been had Farley voiced Shrek by checking out the video below:
- Fall In Love With 'Shrek' Again With These 9 Fascinating Movie Facts You (Probably) Didn't Know
- 'Shrek 5' Confirmed With Release Date
- Parfaits Are Delicious: 15 Quotes To Relive The Genius Of Shrek's Chatty Donkey
2. They Went Through A Number Of Different Directors, Animators And Actors
Being unable to hold down a solid production team doesn't bode well for any movie, and the turn around in the early days of Shrek was pretty appalling to say the least. Although Mike Myers — fresh out of Austin Powers — was clearly a winning choice to replace Farley, he was not the only amendment made to the original line-up. The first screenwriters were replaced by Beavis and Butthead's Joe Stillman and Balto's Roger Schulman, and director Henry Selick was substituted for first-timers Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson.
And not only that, according to the New York Post's summary, after seeing the first initial one-minute test, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg was reportedly so appalled by the animation — which apparently looked more like early days The Simpsons than slick #Disney characters — that a team of 40 were fired on the spot and production was stopped.
As you might imagine, all of this sparked a lengthy debate over whether to just scrap the project altogether.
It Was Saved With An Accent
It would seem as though, alongside a huge CGI update to the characters, that Mike Myers was behind the shift in momentum — and it was all thanks to his accent. The story goes, after he recorded the dialog in his native Canadian accent, he proposed that the character's accent be shifted to "the Scottish accent of somebody who's lived in Canada for 20 years." And, based on impulse and a huge gamble, Katzenberg agreed, re-green-lit the project and went on to develop a movie that will go down in animated cinema history.
Fast forward to mid-May 2001, to Cannes film festival and Shrek was met with a standing ovation, going on to gross $42 million in its first weekend and become one of the most successful movies of all time. Not bad for an "ugly stepchild," eh?
Which Shrek movie is your favorite?