If one was to say that DreamWorks peaked early, they could easily point to Shrek 2 as evidence. By no means am I saying that there haven’t been any good DreamWorks movies since – I’ve seen several of them. But Shrek 2 is one of the few movies out there that was pretty much universally considered better than its original by audiences when it first released. Personally I still think it is, and I’m not alone on that. When Shrek 2 released in 2004, it ended up earning $919 million. In addition, the movie earned $800 million from home video and merchandise sales.
At the time of its release in 2004, Shrek 2 was the highest earning animated movie of all-time. It held onto that title until Toy Story released in 2010 (becoming the first animated movie to ever pass the $1 billion mark). Shrek 2 remains the highest grossing animated movie ever released by anyone but Disney or Universal (Despicable Me 2 and 3, and Minions). It’s still the 11th highest earning animated movie of all-time. It was also the highest earning movie of 2004, and very few animated movies can say that.
Shrek 2 also received a lot of critical praise, earning an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. Although it didn’t win any Academy Awards, it earned nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (Accidentally In Love by Counting Crows). It lost Best Animated Feature to The Incredibles, making 2004 a very good year for animation. Well … if you don’t count Home On The Range (I hate that movie).
Anyway, production for Shrek 2 began before Shrek even released. The screenwriters for the first film insisted the sequel be a more traditional fairytale, but after disagreements with the producers, they all left. Director Andrew Adamson then took a lot of inspiration from the classic romance Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner for some of Shrek 2’s more dramatic themes. It explored the idea of parents having difficulty with the man their daughter chose to marry.
In Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, it’s a rich girl marrying a black man at a time where race relations weren’t so good. In Shrek, it’s a king and queen learning that their daughter married an ogre, and in doing so, has permanently turned into an ogre herself. It’s a theme that’s explored quite well in this movie. They also wanted more human characters, and worked to improve their appearances with more detailed hair physics and general improvements in their animation.
At one point early in its development, Shrek 2 started with Shrek abdicating the throne once ruled by Lord Farquaad, and calling a fairy tale election. Adamson eventually decided that while it had some funny ideas, it ended up being too much of a political satire. “It was more intellectual than emotional.”
After Shrek became a major hit, the big three actors, Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey) and Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona) negotiated an upfront payment of $10 million each. That’s a huge raise from each of them earning $350,000 for the first Shrek movie. Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg even said that it’s probably the most each actor earned for one movie over their entire careers. That might still be true today, especially since Mike Myers kind of disappeared for the last 10 years, and Eddie Murphy can’t seem to stop singing onto duds. Each actor was expected to work between 15 and 18 hours total. Seriously, 18 hours of work and you get paid $10 million? Where can I get that kind of job? Partly due to those high salaries, the movie’s total budget ended up being $150 million.
Joining the original cast is John Cleese of Monty Python fame, playing Fiona’s king father, and he’s brilliant in the role. He strikes a near perfect balance between being upset that his daughter married an ogre, regretful of some of his actions, fear, and the right touch of humour that he’s known for. Julia Andrews is also great as Queen Lillian, trying to act like a proper royal despite all the insanity around her. Antonio Banderas is always entertaining as the cat assassin, Puss in Boots. And what kind of fairytale parody would this be without the villains? Jennifer Saunders is delightful as the evil Fairy Godmother, able to switch between sweet and kind one moment, and wrathful the next. Rupert Everett as the Fairy Godmother’s son, Prince Charming, gives the role the perfect amount of smugness.
It’s worth noting that Shrek 2 released earlier than originally planned. The original release date was planned for June 18 of 2004, but the incredibly high demand, and lighter competition at the time, encouraged DreamWorks to release the movie almost a full month earlier (May 19). They also aired the first five minutes of the film on Nickelodeon the day before its release. It should also be mentioned that the DVD release featured Far Far Away Idol, a very entertaining parody of American Idol. It even guest starred Simon Cowell himself as one of the judges. That alone is worth getting the DVD for. The VHS version also featured Far Far Away Idol, but as you couldn’t select the winner, you instead voted online. Only three days after the VHS release, DreamWorks already received 750,000 votes.
Shrek 2 is better than the original in almost every way. It parodies fairytales harder than the first, while simultaneously embracing them more. While it’s loaded with references like the first entry, the movies it parodies have stood the test of time better, making for a movie that feels much less dated. And even if you don’t recognize the movies parodied, most of the moments work just fine as is.
Some of the movies parodied include Spider-Man (2002), The Little Mermaid, Lord of the Rings, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mission Impossible, E.T. and Frankenstein. But instead of spoiling these moments in case you somehow haven’t seen Shrek 2, I won’t say what or where the parodies are.
Shrek 2 is the quintessential DreamWorks movie. It shows a fairly new movie studio at its best, perfecting a formula that began with the original Shrek. It’s the ultimate anti-Disney movie, and I mean that in the nicest way possible to both Disney and DreamWorks. Shrek 2 is well balanced with humour, creative visuals and some great drama. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should rectify that soon. It’s just a shame that later Shrek sequels wouldn’t fare so well, but we’ll get to them.
Next up is Shark Tale, which I haven’t seen. That’s followed by Madagascar, which I always felt was overrated, and then Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I’m not sure how many of those I’ll get through before the end of the month (August has turned out to be quite busy for me and I’m not done with it yet), but I’ll get through as many as I can. Then we’re back to my James Bond blogathon with Roger Moore month. I’m both looking forward to and dreading Roger Moore month.