Tales from behind the scenes of Shrek reveal a lot about the animated hit. Though the movie seemingly appeared of nowhere in 2001, the filmmakers worked tirelessly to make Shrek happen. Borrowing liberally from other studios and meta-fantasies like The Princess Bride, the ogre-led, fractured fairy tale earned more than $480 million and spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise.
The superfans at Shrekfest already know all the Shrek facts behind this Mike Myers-voiced classic, but there are plenty of production stories demonstrating how "happily ever after" was never a guarantee. From battles with Disney to mud showers, the details of the drama surrounding the making of DreamWorks's millennial masterpiece are as engaging as the end result.
Shrek wasn't the first animated movie DreamWorks produced. In 1998, the young animation studio released a pair of animated films, including The Prince of Egypt, a hand-drawn take on the Ten Commandments reminiscent of classic Disney animated hits.
Before the breakout success of Shrek, DreamWorks and its animators considered computer-generated animation a lesser-artform than traditional techniques. If artists produced shoddy work on Prince of Egypt, they had to withdraw from the project. As a punishment, they had to work on Shrek instead. The 1998 film made a passable $218 million, but less than three years later, the so-called 'punishment' would gross more than $480 million.
Shrek succeeded because it was a typical children's film on the surface, but hid surprisingly dark and mature jokes to keep parents and adults entertained. The animators put a macabre spin on classic fairy tale creatures, and it was easy to miss some of their darkest jokes.
Early in the movie, the three bears from Goldilocks end up trapped in a cage. Later on, a shot pans across Lord Farquaad's bedroom and shows a new bearskin rug complete with Mama Bear's bow. It's a morbid touch for a family film, but the movie leans into it further by showing Baby Bear crying with his father at a campfire.
It's common for Hollywood studios to feud - sometimes decades at a time. It's a cutthroat world and executives frequently move from studio-to-studio, though not always by choice. Jeffrey Katzenberg held one of the highest positions at Disney Animation when Michael Eisner fired him in 1994. Katzenberg teamed up with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg to form DreamWorks Pictures. Moreover, Katzenberg set out to build an animation wing to rival his former employer's.
After several flops and small successes, Shrek became Katzenberg's breakthrough in 2001. He further thumbed his nose at his former boss - beyond the jokes lobbed at Disney theme parks and tropes, the animators allegedly based the villainous Lord Farquaad on Eisner.
Shrek walked a tricky tightrope while taking shots at Disney, DreamWorks's rival animation company. DreamWorks clarified its intentions by mocking "It's a Small World," retooling versions of classic Disney fairytale characters, and launching an advertising campaign with a magic mirror suspiciously similar to Snow White's. To avoid a hefty lawsuit after the film's release, DreamWorks sent copies of specific scenes for Disney's attorneys to vet.