The Shrek movies are among the most popular and beloved animated films ever made. In a genre that typically skewers an audience of children, the Shrek franchise has somehow managed to attract audiences of kids, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, parents, old people, just about everybody! Even millennials like it and they don’t like anything, at least genuinely and not in an ironic or cynical way. But the movies didn’t just arrive fully formed. In fact, some of the behind the scenes stories make for pretty interesting fairy tales in themselves. So, here are 10 things that you (most likely) didn’t know about Shrek!
10. Mike Myers hated the name at first
If you didn’t know the Shrek character and someone asked you if you’d like to watch a movie called Shrek, you might be a little apprehensive. You’d be more likely to say, “What the hell is that?” than, “Yeah, sure, that sounds awesome!” Well, that was exactly the response that Mike Myers had when he was first pitched the movie by its producer, Jeffrey Katzenberg. As Myers himself explained, “When Jeffrey [Katzenberg] said, ‘Would you like to be in an animated movie?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘It’s called Shrek,’ I said, ‘That’s the worst title I’ve ever heard in my life.’ I didn’t know what it was going to be. In the process, the first time I saw it with an audience and the line, ‘But you are beautiful to me,’ got a gasp because people were so into the whole romance and the heart of it, that I was just blown away that an animated movie could move people and was something that people could be invested in, emotionally. I think that’s been the most satisfying thing for me.” Of course, the actor has come to love the character and the movie and the name that they both share, but it was jarring at first.
9. Far Far Away is full of faux product placement
Mike Myers loves to make fun of product placement in his movies. There was that scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne and Garth are very overtly peddling certain corporate brands. And in Shrek 2, whenever there is a wide shot or an establishing shot on the streets of Far Far Away, then there are little hidden homages to corporate brands. There are parodies of all kinds of famous signs and organizations and logos and stores in Far Far Away, all with a jokey medieval or fairy tale twinge to them. So, Burger King becomes Burger Prince. Old Navy becomes Olde Knavery. Instead of Barney’s New York, they have Barney’s Old York. Instead of Bob’s Big Boy, they have Friar’s Fat Boy. Tower Records becomes Tower of London Records. Versace becomes Versarchery. Gap Kids becomes Gap Queen. Rodeo Drive becomes Romeo Drive, referencing Shakespeare. Saks Fifth Avenue gets a historical spin in the form of Saxon Fifth Avenue. Instead of the LAPD or the NYPD, they have the FFAPD (complete with that inspired “white bronco” gag). And the coup de gras: instead of Baskin Robbins, they have Baskin Robin Hood. The Far Far Away sign is a clear allusion to the Hollywood sign, and developing on that, Starbucks Coffee becomes Farbucks Coffee – because it’s in Far Far Away. It’s all very clever and infectiously funny.
8. DreamWorks’ animators abide by “Shrek’s law”
There is a rule followed by the animation team at DreamWorks that they have called “Shrek’s law.” They coined the term based on a similar rule called “Moore’s law.” This law basically states that “the CPU render hours needed to complete production on a theatrical sequel will double compared to the amount of time needed on the previous film.” So, they have to leave themselves more and more time every time they make one of these movies, otherwise they’ll miss the release date by several million hours. It sounds like a nightmare. The first Shrek movie took five million CPU hours to render, which sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of them. Shrek 2 took over ten million CPU hours to render, and then Shrek the Third took over twenty million CPU hours to render, and then Shrek Forever After – because it was the first of these movies to be made using 3D technologies – took over fifty million CPU hours to render. The spin-off Puss in Boots, which came a year after the fourth movie, took even longer to render, too – approximately sixty million CPU hours. It’s crazy! If these movies keep going, then we’ll be looking at literally hundreds of millions of hours!
7. Eric Idle was going to sue over the use of the coconut gag
In the opening scene of Shrek the Third, we are led to believe that Prince Charming is rapidly riding his horse through the woods, but as the camera pulls out, it reveals that he is actually performing in a dinner theater show. The scenery is being cranked behind him to make it look like he’s moving and someone is clacking coconut shells together to make it sound like the horse he’s riding is galloping along. That exact coconut gag was used in the classic Arthurian comedy movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, whose stars John Cleese and Eric Idle also appear in the Shrek franchise. But despite being in the film, Idle was unaware that the gag would be used and considered suing the studio over it. He said in an interview that the gag was “stolen patently by Shrek 3, I’m happy to say – so we’ll be able to sue their asses.” The guy conducting the interview asked him to elaborate and he said, “No, I mean, it’s like, ‘There it is in the first thirty seconds.’ You go, ‘Wait a minute, John [Cleese] and I are in this film and you steal our joke?’ I don’t know how the others are going to take to this…I hope [DreamWorks] cleared it with them – and they also steal from Spamalot, you know.” The interviewer then told him that it was meant as homage and an irate Idle angrily said, “Do you think if I stole your wallet that’d be homage to your money?” He added, “You see, they neglected to tell us, so the first I saw it was in the premiere – and I was shocked. My whole family went, ‘What? How dare you!’ So, I walked out, calmed down, and walked back in, but I was shocked and I think if you steal peoples jokes, I don’t think that’s homage, I think that’s theft.”
6. Donkey was based on Palo Alto’s miniature donkey Perry
You may notice that the character of Donkey doesn’t quite look like a normal donkey. He’s smaller than your average donkey and legs are shorter and more spindly. Well, that’s because he’s based on a very specific donkey from real life – an adorable miniature donkey named Perry. When the animation team was working on the character designs for the first Shrek movie, they visited Perry, who lives with another donkey called Niner, with the intention of sketching them and shooting video of them to base the character’s appearance on. According to Inge Harding-Barlow, one of the people who looks after the two donkeys, “Niner didn’t have a good rapport with one of the artists. He kept trying to eat his very expensive boots. So, Perry got the role, mostly because he behaved himself and Niner didn’t.” Another donkey handler, Don Anderson, said, “You can look at those movies and really tell that it’s him. They shortened his legs a bit and mixed traces of Eddie Murphy’s face in with his, but he’s still Perry.” Perry, which is short for Pericles, lives in the Barron Park neighborhood of Palo Alto in California and he’s probably the only donkey in the world who can claim to be a movie star.
5. The producer’s kids pitched the movie to him
The Shrek movies were originally based on a children’s book written by the late William Steig, and the idea to turn that book into a movie came from the producer’s children. As the producer John H. Williams explained, “Every development deal starts with a pitch, and my pitch came from my then kindergartner, in collaboration with his pre-school brother. Upon our second reading of Shrek, the kindergartner started quoting large segments of the book, pretending he could read them. Even as an adult, I thought Shrek was outrageous, irreverent, iconoclastic, gross, and just a lot of fun. He was a great movie character in search of a movie.” So, Williams decided to give him that movie. The stars just seemed to align perfectly, because he got this idea right as the DreamWorks movie studio was opening up its animation division and looking for great new ideas – and he had one! Studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg fell in love in the same way that Williams had and quickly rushed the movie into development. Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy weren’t the first actors chosen to play Shrek and Donkey – at first, they wanted Bill Murray to play Shrek and Steve Martin to play Donkey. Imagine that!
4. Jon Hamm was dying to be in a Shrek movie
Jon Hamm was best known for starring in the critically acclaimed AMC period drama series Mad Men when he was contacted about playing an ogre in Shrek Forever After, and he didn’t understand why they wanted him to play the role – but he was dying to do it! When asked how he got the part, Hamm just said, “Wow. I don’t know. I don’t know why the character I play on TV would necessarily lend itself to be the first choice to be an animated character, but I don’t know. I honestly can’t believe I’m sitting up here. But when it came my way and they were still trying to figure out what it was going to be – was it going to be a love interest or a rival or something? – they weren’t sure. I was like, ‘I don’t care, I just want to be a part of it.’ I’ve loved the last three versions of this and went and saw all of them in theaters like I was a 13-year-old. So, the pure fan of me was like, ‘I’ll go play somebody who talks backwards, on top of his head, turned around, I don’t even care.’ The fact that they were able to work with me, and my personality, and create this person who is sort of this cheerleader of sorts was fun to do.”
3. Shrek was originally conceived as a vehicle for Chris Farley
Mike Myers was not the first choice to play the title role in Shrek. The movie was actually meant for a fellow Saturday Night Live legend: Chris Farley. The whole thing was a vehicle for Farley, who was the biggest comedy star in the world at this point, but when he died at a tragically young age, they had to scramble to recast. The Shrek character was actually designed to look like Farley, or to at least fit his ‘funny fat guy’ comedic persona. In fact, Myers has even said that just from looking at the initial character design from when he first came on board the project, he could immediately tell that it was designed for Farley. No one was going to tell him. They were going to keep it from him. His friend had just died and they were settling on Myers to take his place in one of his final film roles, so they didn’t want to tell him and shatter the illusion that he was their first choice. But from the second that he walked in the room and saw the initial character design, Myers instantly asked them if it was meant for Farley, and they had to admit that it was.
2. Shrek 5 is actually on the way, so Shrek Forever After wasn’t “The Final Chapter”
Even though the last movie in the Shrek franchise, Shrek Forever After, was touted as “The Final Chapter” of the story in all of its marketing materials, there is in fact a fifth movie on its way. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the producer of the series, teased the fifth movie back in 2014: “I think you can be confident that we’ll have another chapter in the Shrek series. We’re not finished, and more importantly, neither is he.” There’s a script in place written by Michael McCullers, who also co-wrote some Austin Powers movies with Mike Myers and wrote The Boss Baby for DreamWorks, which the studio executives are happy with and apparently reinvents the whole franchise. Eddie Murphy has said that he expects the fifth Shrek movie to be released at some point during 2019. The main impetus for the fifth film was NBCUniversal buying out DreamWorks. Under new management, obviously they were all about making as much money with their assets as they could. Katzenberg has said that the plan with the plot of the fifth movie is to explain “how Shrek came to be in that swamp, when we meet him in the first movie,” which would bring the story to a close and therefore be the true final chapter – until someone with a lot of money wants to see a sixth one.
1. The story behind Shrek’s Scottish accent is really sweet
Are you ready to have your heartstrings tugged on? Because the story behind the iconic thick Scottish accent that Shrek has is actually really sweet. The Scottish accent pairs so perfectly with the character that you might think that it was just a no brainer that fell together in a nice, neat package, but this is not the case. At first, Mike Myers recorded all of his lines in his normal Canadian accent, but when they paired it up with the animation, it just didn’t work. So, he started trying out a bunch of different accents. He tried out a few different regional accents from various areas of Canada, but that wasn’t working either. By the time everyone was sick of workshopping different voices and matching them up with the animation and they were ready to just settle, Myers was the only one with enough passion to offer up his own money to pay for the re-recording. He decided to try out the Scottish accent, because that was the accent that his mother used to use when she would read him bedtime stories as a child. Isn’t that just the sweetest, most beautiful little piece of movie trivia you’ve ever heard?