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When the film opens, an old book is shown. As the pages of the book are turned, Mike Myers, as his character, "Shrek, " narrates off-screen what is written, the story of a princess kept in a castle, guarded by a dragon. As a page turns to "For her true love and true love's first kiss," it is ripped from the book as Shrek scoffs "Like that's ever gonna happen." A moment later, Shrek emerges from an outhouse. The film's title then appears, followed only by the names Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow. Shrek marked the final feature film of long-time character actress Kathleen Freeman, who provided the voice for the "Old Woman" who sells "Donkey."
Early news items and production charts list Kelly Asbury as the film's director, and some news items in trade publications listed Asbury as co-director with Andrew Adamson, but Asbury is only credited onscreen as "Story artist." A January 24, 1996 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that DreamWorks paid $500,000 for the rights to William Steig's children's book and that Tommy Swerdlow and Michael Goldberg were to write the script. Neither Swerdlow nor Goldberg were credited onscreen and their contribution, if any, to the completed project has not been determined.
According to various feature articles, news items and Hollywood Reporter production charts, Chris Farley, Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, Janeane Garofalo and Linda Hunt, whose voices were not included in the completed film, were cast in the picture. Farley, who died on December 18, 1997, had recorded several sessions as Shrek, according to news items, and the filmmakers had hoped to salvage his work for the completed film. However, in August 1998, Myers was brought in as a replacement and Shrek's dialogue was completely redone. Garofalo's voice was not in the completed film, but she was listed on early Hollywood Reporter production charts, and was to have provided the voice of "Fiona." Bosley, Ross and Hunt's roles were cut from the completed film. Hunt was to have given voice to a character named "Dama Fortuna," a witch in a segment called "Fiona's Prologue," Bosley and Ross were cast as Shrek's parents.
In a May 25, 2001 feature article in Entertainment Weekly, Myers explained that the accent used for the film was inspired by his mother, who was born in Liverpool, England, but moved to Canada, where Myers was born. As Myers described it, he wanted the character to "have the Scottish accent of somebody who's lived in Canada 20 years." The article also noted that Myers was not happy after seeing how his dialogue meshed with the animation and talked producer Jeffrey Katzenberg into allowing him to re-record his entire role. The article estimated that the re-recording added $4,000,000 to the film's overall budget, which a May 22, 2001 Los Angeles Times article estimated at $48,000,000 to $60,000,000.
The computer-generated animation featured in Shrek was developed by DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images (PDI), the Palo Alto-based company at which the film was shot. PDI/DreamWorks had also produced Antz (2000), and many of the production and artistic team who worked on that film also worked on Shrek, including Adamson, who made his directing debut with Shrek. As noted in many reviews and feature articles, Shrek brought the level of computer-generated animation to a higher level, particularly in techniques developed for facial expressions and muscle and cloth movement.
According to the film's presskit, the depth of movement and viscosity in the film was made possible by PDI/DreamWorks' Fluid Animation System (FLU). High levels of realism in facial and muscle movement and shading were made possible by a newly developed software technique nicknamed the "Shaper." A Wall Street Journal article noted that PDI made use of the Linux operating system instead of software from Microsoft or Silicon Graphics, Inc., which had been the more dominant software systems used for computer-generated animation and special effects. When Shrek opened in May 2001, it was released in both traditional and digital formats, the first time for any DreamWorks film, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. The digital version of the film was exhibited at eleven theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada and was handled by LucasFilm's THX division.
The presskit also notes that there were thirty-six separate scenic locations in the completed film. The swamp was inspired by a magnolia plantation outside Charleston, SC, and Duloc was inspired by San Simeon (Hearst Castle) in California, Stratford-on-Avon in England and Dordogne, France.
In June 2000, Hollywood trade papers reported that DreamWorks was planning a joint venture with IMAX to release a 3-D version of Shrek. The IMAX version was to coincide with the DVD release of the film. However, news items in November 2000 noted that the deal had fallen through. A Hollywood Reporter article on November 9, 2000 noted that the project had been abandoned by IMAX due to the escalation of the costs related to creative changes in the project.
According to various news items, the extensive marketing and promotional campaign for Shrek was one of the largest in film history, including promotional tie-ins with Burger King restaurants and Heinz ketchup, among others. Book tie-ins were also launched to coincide with the film's theatrical release, including a new edition of Steig's book and a novelization of the film. In late December 2000, a Daily Variety article noted that DreamWorks had just signed a five-year deal with TDK Mediactive to develop computer games based on Shrek.
Shrek was put into competition at the May 2001 Cannes Film Festival, the first animated film to be placed into official competition for the Palme d'Or since Walt Disney's Peter Pan in 1953. After its North American release in May 2001, Shrek had the largest non-holiday opening for an animated film and was the largest DreamWorks opening to date. It was the first release of the summer to take in more than $200,000,000 at the box office and went on to gross over $267,000,000 domestically, the second highest grossing film of 2001.
The DVD release of the film included videotaped storyboard conferences for three unused segments of the film, including "Fiona's Prologue," mentioned above, which was to have explained how Fiona became cursed. A second segment, called "The Deal," involved negotiations between "Lord Farquaad" and Shrek for the deed to the swamp. A third segment, titled "Fiona Gets Them Lost," was to take place after Shrek, Fiona and Donkey escape from the Dragon's castle and start on the road to Duloc. Storyboards indicate that some of the action was to involve a cave-enclosed roller-coaster-like sequence similar to one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Within Shrek (which means "horror" in Yiddish) there are numerous parodies of well known fairy tales and popular animated films. The Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men and other well-known characters and films are also parodied. For example, the scene in which Fiona fights with Robin Hood emulated the kind of stop-action special effects photography popularized in The Matrix. Satirizations of Disney films, Disneyland and Disney-related items provide the film with many of its comic moments. When Shrek and Donkey first arrive at Duloc, they see a series of crowd-control ropes and a turnstile similar to those used in Disneyland and other amusement parks. Later, they open a cabinet and tiny animated figures sing a cheerful song similar to "It's a Small World," the tune that is heard throughout the epononymously named ride at Disneyland.
Many fairy tale figures included in Disney films appear briefly in Shrek, often against type. At Shrek and Fiona's wedding, for example, Cinderella slugs Snow White in order to catch Fiona's bridal bouquet. Many reviews and feature articles on Shrek suggested that Katzenberg, who had been head of animation production at Disney prior to becoming a partner in DreamWorks SKG, was taking satiric revenge against his former studio.
A number of critics pointed out a more serious side to the film in its Holocaust allusions, particularly evident in the sequence in which the fairy tale characters are turned in for rewards. Some feature articles speculated that the characterization of "Lord Farquaad" was a self-parody of Katzenberg, while others suggested that the demeanor, if not the physical stature, of the character was based on Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The physical appearance and clothing of the character closely resembles the appearance of actor-director Laurence Olivier in his production of William Shakespeare's Richard III.
A number of feature articles commented on a "rivalry" between Shrek and Disney/Pixar's Monster's, Inc., which opened on November 2, 2001. The DVD version of Shrek was released on the same date as Monster's, Inc.'s opening, prompting some news items to indicate a deliberate attempt to undermine the domestic box office of Monster's, Inc. The DVD was released in a two-disc set, with eleven hours of special features, including an additional three-minute segment of the film's "I'm a Believer" musical finale and the videotaped storyboard conferences noted above for the three unused segments of the film. The DVD release of Shrek set an all-time record, with 2.5 million units sold within three days.
In addition to being nominated by AFI as Movie of the Year, Shrek received twelve Annie nominations and one award from the International Animated Film Society and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy. The film won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature of the year and was nominated in the category of Best Screenplay based on previously published or produced materials. A sequel to the film, Shrek 2, which began pre-production in mid-2001, was released in 2004. That film, which was directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon, also featured the voices of Myers, Diaz and Murphy, as well as Julie Andrews, John Cleese and Antonio Banderas.