The landmark animated film Shrek was released in 2001 by Dreamworks and immediately became a blockbuster. Shrek was so successful it skyrocketed Dreamworks to prominence alongside Disney and Pixar. But despite the popularity of the entire franchise, there are a lot of secrets you may not know about.
From the tragic events which put the film on hold, to the hilarious pop culture references littered throughout, you’ll soon love this children’s animated film even more. Wait until you find out which outrageous action-movie actor was offered the role.
Shrek Is Based On A Real Person
Shrek wasn’t the creation of a team of film writers, it was actually based on a children’s book. The book, Shrek!, was published in 1990 by 83-year-old author William Steig. It’s believed that Steig loosely based the character on a 1940’s professional wrestler, Maurice Tillet, who suffered from acromegaly, a condition where your bones overgrow and thicken.
The book’s original artwork definitely doesn’t look like Tillet, but the shocking similarities in appearance between Tillet and the film led many to believe that Dreamworks used the wrestler as visual inspiration.
Shrek Was Originally A Spielberg Film
Only one year after the book was released, Spielberg snatched up the rights for a filmed version. Spielberg planned to make a traditionally animated version of the book, with a look similar to the animated films of the early 1990’s like The Lion King.
Despite his quick thinking, the famous director didn’t take much action with the script at first. He was a little busy with other major blockbuster projects like Hook, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List. Can you imagine adding in Shrek to that already-packed schedule?
Bill Murray And Steve Martin Were The Original Shrek And Donkey
Despite being pretty busy, Spielberg had been considering some actors for the major roles. Comedy legends Bill Murray and Steve Martin were reportedly considered for the titles roles of Shrek and Donkey.
Murray and Martin had worked together in Little Shop Of Horrors and had both been cast members of Saturday Night Live, so we’re sure they would have great chemistry, but no one can truly compare to the dynamic duo of Mike Meyers and Eddie Murphy.
DreamWorks Put Shrek On Track
After years of having trouble getting Shrek picked up, Spielberg decided just to create his own animation production company. In 1994, he founded DreamWorks Animation alongside famed music producer, David Geffen, and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
After releasing average films in the traditional animation style, Shrek would be DreamWorks’ first real blockbuster film. They hired on rookie producers Aron Warner and John H. Williams. Williams was reportedly eager to take on the project because his kids were obsessed with the book!
Chris Farley Was Originally Shrek
While picturing Bill Murray and Steve Martin as the stars of an animation film was a little strange, they thought they had found the perfect Shrek with the actor Chris Farley. The comedy legend had been brought on to voice Shrek and had even completed about 80% of the lines before dying tragically in 1997 of a drug overdose.
Farley was even an inspiration behind the character Shrek. Rather than the harsh and abrasive Shrek we all know now, the original character was more of a humble, innocent and bumbling guy. It’s believed that Shrek’s use of air quotes is a subtle tribute to the late actor’s famous SNL “air quotes guy” character.
Shrek May Have Had A Canadian Accent
After Farley’s untimely death, Mike Meyers was brought in to voice Shrek. After the first recording, Meyers decided that the character needed a different accent. He toyed with the ideas of British and Canadian accents before landing on the gruff, Scottish accent that has become iconic for the character.
Shrek’s iconic Scottish accent is even admired by Scots, who love the edgy and grumpy accent. Meyers was even presented with a special Scottish Shrek tartan when on tour in the United Kingdom promoting Shrek the Third.
Smash Mouth’s “All Star” Wasn’t Going To Be In It
It’s hard to think of Shrek without immediately starting to sing American rock band Smash Mouth’s title hit, “All Star.” Shrek uses the song heavily, and the Internet has recently even turned the movie and song into a popular meme. But can you believe that “All Star” wasn’t even originally in the film?
The producers used the song in the first scene as a placeholder until they could find the perfect song, but decided against it because it tested extremely well with focus groups. Thank you, unknown focus group. The people of the world appreciate you.
The Animation Team Did Their Homework
This was DreamWorks’ first major CGI animated film and they expected great things, so the animation team made sure to do their homework. It was the first time that some elements, like mud, would be animated in this form. So what did they do to prepare? They took their own mud baths, of course.
The animation team reportedly took several mud baths to study the way that mud flows in order to make it look as real as possible. Who knew some much went into giving an ogre a shower? We definitely appreciate their hard work!
Donkey Was Modelled After A Real Donkey
Eddie Murphy’s legendary character of Donkey looked pretty different in the original book. It was just a normal sized donkey. The animators decided they needed to add some more personality to the character and decided to base it off of a real-life donkey.
Perry the miniature donkey exists in real life, and yes, you can even go and meet him. Perry lives in Palo Alto, California. He may be a little upset right now though after the death of his companion, Miner 49er.
Cameron Diaz Truly Is Princess Fiona
Of all the actors who lent their voices to Shrek, it’s hard to believe that the one who is most like their character is Cameron Diaz. Diaz, who voices Princess Fiona, was a perfect fit. The directors knew it after she burped unexpectedly in front of the director. The scene where Fiona burps and surprises Shrek is based on that actual incident.
Diaz also used her past movie training to help her out. She had kung fu training for Charlie’s Angels and while recording Fiona’s fight scene with Robin Hood and the Merry Men, became pretty physical in the studio. Apparently, she even broke out into Cantonese at times.
It Won The First “Best Animated Film” Ever
Disney may seem like the biggest animation studio in the business, but DreamWorks literally changed the game. Their 2000 stop-motion film, Chicken Run, was so successful that the Academy decided they needed a new film category to appreciate animated films. DreamWorks’ success proved to the Academy that there were more competitors against Disney.
Thanks to their previous film, when DreamWorks released Shrek in 2001, it became the first-ever winner of the Best Animated Feature category. It even beat out Monsters Inc. and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
Shrek Means “Fear” Or “Monster”
I definitely just assumed that Shrek was a made up name that meant nothing, but the original author was more crafty than that. Shrek is based on a Yiddish word that can be loosely translated back to a German word “schreck”.
The German word means “fear” or “terror” and can be used in slang as “monster”. So Shrek was really destined to be a scary ogre from birth. What kind of parents would set their ogre child up for failure with a name like that?
It Was Going To Be Stop Motion Animation
Shrek’s traditional CGI animation, that made it so eye-catching to children and adults alike, was not always the gameplan. Speilberg wanted to make a traditionally animated film, similar to the animation seen in films of the time like The Lion King. After creating DreamWorks, the company acquired British stop-motion company Aardman to make Chicken Run.
They toyed with the idea of also making Shrek stop-motion, but decided against it and instead worked on developing their CGI technology. They tested out their new technology on Antz then applied that animation style, and voila!
John Lithgow Didn’t Want To Voice Someone Short
Lord Farquaad is one of the most memorable characters in Shrek. Known for his short stature and big ego, Lord Farquaad wasn’t even in the original book and was added in specially for the movie. Since he was a DreamWorks creation, they wanted to be sure they had the perfect voice actor, and they pursued legendary actor John Lithgow.
Lithgow was intrigued by the role but was wary when he heard that Lord Farquaad was so short. According to Lithgow, he swore to himself he would never play anyone short. The 6’4″ actor made an exception for Lord Farquaad after reading the script.
It Has Incredibly Popular Reviews
Its rare for an animated film that is so beloved by children to be equally adored by critics. Esteemed film critic, Roger Ebert, said that Shrek is “jolly and wicked, filled with sly invokes and yet somehow possessing a heart. Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, and it holds an 88% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s exactly that appeal to children and adults that make Shrek such a timeless film. Animated films during this era began incorporating covert jokes for adults to enjoy while their children laugh along unknowingly.
Nicolas Cage Was Offered The Role Of Shrek
Photo credit: Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images
Bill Murray and Chris Farley are both hard to believe as Shrek when Mike Meyers made him such an iconic character, but can you believe the before Farley or Meyers, the role was offered to Nicolas Cage? DreamWorks offered Cage the role but he swiftly turned it down because Shrek was an ogre.
Yes, the actor known for playing characters in an over-the-top way dismissed playing Shrek because he didn’t want people to associate him with an ogre. Cage said that kids will associate his looks with an ogre, and that it would end up ruining his image.
It’s Notorious For Pop Culture References
Shrek is basically a gold mine for pop culture easter eggs. In the original film, the writers and animators took liberties and had fun adding in small jokes like the Big Bad Wolf reading “Pork Illustrated” in bed (an allusion to Sports Illustrated). The scene where Lord Farquaad had to choose between 3 princesses is seen as a take on popular dating shows like Matchmaker and The Bachelor.
The plot of the other films makes it easy to slide in cultural references everywhere. In Shrek 2, the list of movies, celebrities, tv shows, and other fairytales referenced in the film is dizzying.
Dreamworks Needed To Make Sure Disney Didn’t Sue Them
One of the partners that Spielberg created DreamWorks with was the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg was very hands-on with Shrek and many worried this would result in some lawsuits.
Katzenberg’s former boss, Michael Eisner, had a rocky relationship and many have speculated that Lord Farquaad’s personality and short stature is a jab at Eisner, who insulted Katzenberg’s size. This theory is plausible since Lord Farquaad wasn’t in the original book. Nothing has been proven, but some Radio Disney affiliates believed the rumors and wouldn’t allow DreamWorks to buy ad time for Shrek. What better way to get back at an old boss than making him a hated movie character?
Speilberg Thanked Meyers Personally
Since he spent nearly 10 years trying to get Shrek into production, its no surprise that when it finally took off, Steven Spielberg was incredibly thankful. Spielberg was reportedly so ecstatic about what Meyers did for the character of Shrek, that he personally extended how grateful he was.
Meyers told reporters that Spielberg sent him a letter saying “Thank you so much for caring.” If a hand-written note from the most influential directors of the modern Hollywood age doesn’t justify your work, what else do you need?
The Merry Men Do The Actual Riverdance
Once again, Shrek’s animators are anything if not thorough. One memorable scene in Shrek is where Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona happen upon Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. The Merry Men perform a singing and dancing routine. The routine may seem impressive, but whats even more impressive is that it is the exact same routine that’s done in the musical, Riverdance.
We can only imagine how much attention to detail and how much time it would take to copy and animated such an intricate traditional Irish folk dance.