As I’ve talked about during my Disney Animated Movies Blogathon, the early 2000’s were not kind to the studio. Their last majorly successful animated movie, Tarzan, released in 1999. It was in the early 2000’s when they entered what a lot of people call their second dark age. And unlike the first, where there are some good movies that just didn’t do all that well, most of Disney’s movies between 2000 and 2005 were lackluster at best. A couple of them like Home on the Range (I hate that movie) were even terrible.
At the same time, DreamWorks really started to rise in popularity. No other movie encompasses this more than 2001’s Shrek. Loosely based on the 1990 fairytale picture book by William Steig, Shrek stars an ogre who finds his swam overrun by fairytale creatures. In order to get his privacy back, he agrees with Lord Farquaad to rescue a princess for him, so he can marry and become a king. But it turns out that Shrek and the princess end up falling in love. The rights to the book were originally bought by Steven Spielberg back in 1991, before he co-founded DreamWorks. He thought of making a traditionally animated movie based on the book. Soon after founding the company, Jeffery Katzenberg convinced Spielberg to put the movie into production.
The original intention was to have Bill Murray voicing the character of Shrek, and Steve Martin playing the talking Donkey. That sound like it would have been perfectly fine. It’s also worth noting that Chris Farley was originally cast as the voice of Shrek, but he died in 1997 before he could complete his role. Nicolas Cage was offered the role, but turned it down because he didn’t want to look like an ogre. Eventually Mike Myers landed the role, and after his first recording, he decided to use a Scottish accent. Andrew Adamson and Kelly Asbury co-directed the film at first, although Asbury later left the project to work on 2002’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Storyboard artist Vicky Jenson replaced him. Jenson recalled about the movie’s development,
“For a long time, the movie didn’t know what it wanted to be. One problem was unavoidable. Chris Farley had died, and the story had been geared around him, so when he went, the story kind of went with him … I think they were really close to shelving the project when a few of us came into story to try and find a tone we could work with.”
After Myers joined the movie, they completely rewrote the character of Shrek, and most of the movie around his character changes. It eventually became a sort-of Disney parody, making fun of fairytales more than embracing them. This new direction really works in the movie’s favour. After the movie completed, Spielberg wrote Myers a letter, thanking him for all the effort and care he put into the character. That and how Spielberg felt the Scottish accent benefitted the movie as a whole.
Shrek was originally planned to be a live-action/CG hybrid, somewhat like Disney’s Dinosaur. When they decided the results weren’t satisfactory, they abandoned the idea in favour of straight CGI. The movie featured 36 locations within its digital world, which DreamWorks claims was more than any CG animated movie before it. Whether that’s true or not, they focused on colour and mood above all else when developing the locations. It makes for some very pretty environments for its time.
The end result speaks for itself. The movie earned $484 million on a $60 million budget, making it DreamWorks’ first major success. It inspired three theatrical sequels, a spinoff, two holiday specials, and a fourth sequel currently in development. It inspired a stage musical, brought forth multiple video games, and even a couple comic adaptations from Dark Horse Comics. The character of Shrek even earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.
Shrek also became the first winner ever in the Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards, beating out Pixar’s Monsters Inc. Critics gave the movie a lot of praise, earning it an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.8/10. Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 stars, describing it as “jolly and wicked, filled with sly in-jokes and yet somehow possessing a heart.” The movie’s performance, both critically and commercially, established DreamWorks as Pixar’s main rival for the time being, since Disney started going downhill at the time.
Watching this movie again after a number of years feels good. I clearly remember enjoying this movie when I saw it for the first time, even if I don’t remember exactly where I first saw it. The movie does a great job at parodying the fairy tale animated movie, while also telling a good story in its own right. Shrek also feels like a bit of a relic of the early 2000’s. Besides Smash Mouth playing the opening song and a fight scene that parodies the Matrix (which was done way too many times in the early 2000’s), I mean that in the best way possible. There are brief moments that clash with the movie’s overall tone in ways that somehow work, like Lord Farquaad choosing a princess to rescue somehow turning into a gameshow-like scene.
Myers does a great job at voicing Shrek, showing a wide range of emotions. His sense of sarcasm really sells Shrek’s kind, yet loner attitude. When Shrek is supposed to sound angry, he’s almost terrifying. In the more dramatic moments, Shrek’s voice shows his soft side very well. Eddie Murphy is somehow both hilarious and slightly annoying, which is perfect for his talkative donkey. Yet Donkey quiets down enough to let emotional moments happen, and his more subtle performances in these moments even enhances them. Cameron Diaz is great as Princess Fiona, balancing eagerness, frustration, sadness and a sense of fun perfectly. And of course John Lithgow is perfectly smug yet pathetic as Lord Farquaad.
If you’ve somehow missed this gem from the early 2000’s, you should treat yourself to Shrek. It’s kind-of the ultimate anti-Disney movie, and as someone who’s now seen every Disney Animation Studio movie released to date, I mean that in the best way possible. Next month I’ll be switching back to my James Bond Blogathon, which I might only look at three movies since it’s also Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m planning a major book edit. I also hope to see Incredibles 2 sometime in the next week and write a blog post about that. We’ll see how the month goes though. When we do get back to DreamWorks in August though, we’ll be looking at Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.