Finding the Appeal Behind Shrek, the Animation Movie

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The world of animation is filled with so many talented and creative people. It is a common language shared between adults and children, a world where anything goes just as long as one has the imagination for it. And imagination itself has no bounds. It limits no one and restricts no one to a certain kind of style of dynamic. Stories, in itself, are freeform ways of narrating and sharing experiences, but what had happened while Shrek had been in production was entirely different. The story that comes along with it is very fittingly different, too.

Getting “Shreked”

For many of us, the memory of watching Shrek for the first time is a fond one. If you ask many millennial or tail-end Gen Z people to think about the scene in Shrek where Fairy Godmother sang “I Need a Hero,” chances are, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Other than the movie’s uncanny skill of pulling viewers from both demographics to discuss something they fondly remember, Shrek was also one of the first movies to wow audiences in the early days of animation. Before it’s astronomical rise for its “edgy” comedy, Shrek held a few skeletons in its closet during the animation process. CBR.com, a website describing itself as the top source for comic book and pop culture news, this urban legend is actually quite true. The story was that Prince of Egypt had been in production roughly around the same time Shrek was.

Back then, animation integrated in computer graphics was unchartered territory, one that Disney was able to cross first with the release of the very first Toy Story film in 1995. At the same time Dreamworks was working for Prince of Egypt, and the requests of Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the three founding fathers of Dreamworks, only kept wearing out the animation team. Katzenberg, after acquiring the rights to the original book by William Steig of the same name, decided he wanted to take a shot at it after Spielberg’s option lapsed. It was a strange project from there. Katzenberg had wanted it to be “edgy,” but no one at the time knew how to make that happen. The major fear was: “How far can you push the envelope with a fairy tale story and not alienate a mainstream audience?”

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The pressure was on because Prince of Egypt became such a smash hit that many authorities in DreamWorks would boot some animators from the Prince of Egypt to work on Shrek instead. It became a punishment for them. Nicole Laporte who wrote a book about this strange event said: “It was known as the Gulag. If you failed on ‘Prince of Egypt,’ you were sent to the dungeons to work on ‘Shrek.’” Hence the term, getting “Shreked.” Things looked up eventually when the film started to make good on Katzenberg’s “edgy” request. Though Chris Farley died, the person first cast to do the voice of Shrek, Mike Myers was able to save the role, recorded his lines with a Scottish accent and, well, the rest is history.

Mike Myers as Shrek

In another in-depth report by the New York Post, a daily newspaper from New York City, Farley’s death had become something of a turning point for the animation team. When in 1997, Farley became no more, the questions centered around whether or not they would continue the project. Their saving grace came in the form of Mike Myers, fresh off Austin Powers. Andrew Adamson, one of the two directors of the movie, told the New York Post that Myers brought to the table something they didn’t realize they needed. “You’d pitch him a sequence and you’d show him the pages, and he’d read it very quietly, just kind of to himself. And then he’d step in front of the microphone and just — bam! — instantly, it’s Donkey,” recounts Adamson. “He’d come up with stuff we’d never even imagined. He’d take a single-beat joke and turn it into a three-beat joke.”

Behind the Appeal

Perhaps Myers and the movie’s edgy storyline is what drew crowds in — and still continue to enamore today. For Brian Feldman, a Wire contributor, the resonant appeal is a little different. He tells The Atlantic, an American magazine and multimedia platform, that the appeal of Shrek is its postmodern quality. ‘I think Shrek is really a shorthand for everything that was popular in the early aughts, before the internet folded in on itself. This was sort of the first instance of a postmodern children’s thing selling out…it’s this odd mix of both admitting affection, but also that it’s kinda shitty.’ Feldman says. Feldman also adds: ‘Shrek is shorthand for that weird stretch of a couple years. DreamWorks quickly wore out its welcome with smug pop culture-referencing animals, but this was the honeymoon period.”

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