The rights to the books were originally bought by Steven Spielberg in 1991, before the founding of DreamWorks, when he thought about making a traditionally animated film based on the book. However, John H. Williams convinced him to bring the film to DreamWorks in 1994, the time the studio was founded, and the film was put quickly into active development by Jeffrey Katzenberg after the rights were bought by the studio in 1995. Shrek originally cast Chris Farley to do the voice for the title character, recording about 80%-90% of his dialog. After Farley died in 1997 before he could finish, Mike Myers was brought in to work for the character, who after his first recording decide to record his voice in a Scottish accent. The film was also originally planned to be motion-captured, but after poor results, the studio decided to get PDI to help Shrek get its final computer-animated look.
Earning $484.4 million at the worldwide box office, the film was a critical and commercial success. Shrek also received promotion from food chains such as Baskin-Robbins (promoting the film's DVD release) and Burger King. It was acclaimed as an animated film worthy of adult interest, with many adult-oriented jokes and themes but a simple enough plot and humor to appeal to children. Shrek won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was also nominated for six British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film's main (and title) character was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in May 2010.
Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a prime competitor to Pixar in the field of feature film animation, particularly in computer animation. The film's success prompted DreamWorks to create three sequels, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Shrek Forever After, two holiday specials, Shrek the Halls and Scared Shrekless, and a spin-off film, Puss in Boots. A fifth film, planned as the last of the series, was cancelled in 2009 with the announcement that the fourth film would conclude the series. The film's success also inspired other merchandise, such as video games, a stage musical and even a comic book by Dark Horse Comics.
Shrek is a green ogre that has always enjoyed living in peaceful solitude in his swamp, finds his life disrupted when numerous fairytale beings, including Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and Donkey, are forced into the swamp by order of the obsessive and fairytale-hating Lord Farquaad .
Shrek leaves the swamp to ask Lord Farquaad for the return of his privacy, with Donkey tagging along. Meanwhile, Farquaad tortures the Gingerbread Man into revealing the whereabouts of the remaining fairytale creatures until his guards rush in with an object Farquaad has been searching for: the Magic Mirror. The Mirror tells him that Farquaad can only become a real king by marrying a princess. The Mirror gives him three princesses to choose from including Cinderella, Snow White, and Princess Fiona. Farquaad chooses Fiona and silences the Mirror before he can mention "the little thing that happens at night".
Shrek and Donkey arrive at Lord Farquaad's palace in Duloc, where they find themselves in the midst of a tournament; the winner will have the "privilege" of attempting to rescue Fiona from a castle surrounded by lava and protected by a fire-breathing dragon so that Lord Farquaad may marry her. Shrek (with some help from Donkey) easily beats the other knights in a fashion that resembles a wrestling match and Farquaad agrees to remove the fairytale creatures from the swamp if Shrek rescues Fiona.
Shrek and Donkey travel to the castle and split up to find Fiona. Donkey encounters the dragon and sweet-talks the beast to save himself before discovering that the dragon is female. Dragon takes a liking to Donkey and carries him to her chambers. When Shrek finds Fiona, she is appalled at his lack of romanticism. As they are leaving, Shrek manages to save Donkey, caught in Dragon's tender clutches, and causing her to become irate, chasing Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey out of the castle. At first, Fiona is thrilled to be rescued but quickly becomes disappointed when she finds out that Shrek is an ogre. The three make their return journey to Farquaad's palace, with Shrek and Fiona finding they have more in common with each other along the way, and falling in love. However, at night, Fiona refuses to camp with them, taking shelter in a nearby cave until morning. Shrek and Donkey stay awake and watch the stars while Shrek informs Donkey that he plans to build a wall around his swamp when he returns. When Donkey persists as to why Shrek would do this, Shrek tells him that everyone judges him before they know him, therefore he is better off alone.
The next night, Fiona takes shelter in a nearby windmill. When Donkey hears strange noises coming from the windmill, he finds Fiona has turned into an ogre. Fiona explains she was cursed as a child and turns into an ogre every night, which is why she was locked away in the castle, and that only a kiss from her true love will return her to her proper form. Shrek, about to confess his feelings for Fiona, overhears part of their conversation, and is heartbroken as he misinterprets her disgust at her transformation into an "ugly beast" as being disgusted with him. Fiona makes Donkey promise not to tell Shrek about the spell, vowing to do it herself, but when the next morning comes, Shrek has brought Lord Farquaad to Fiona. The two return to the castle, while a hurt Shrek returns to the now-vacated swamp.
Shrek finds that despite his privacy, he is miserable and misses Fiona. Donkey shows up and tries to convince Shrek to go back for Fiona, but Shrek tells him that he heard Fiona say that he was a hideous beast. Donkey tells Fiona wasn't referring to him and tells Shrek that she will be getting married shortly, urging Shrek into action to gain Fiona's true love. They are able to travel to Duloc quickly thanks to Dragon, who had escaped her confines and followed Donkey. They interrupt the wedding before Farquaad can kiss Fiona, but not before the sun sets, which causes Fiona to turn into an ogre in front of everyone. While her transformation causes Shrek to fully understand what he overheard at the windmill, Farquaad, disgusted over the change, orders Shrek killed and Fiona imprisoned, but Dragon bursts in and devours Farquaad. Shrek and Fiona admit their love for each other and share a kiss; Fiona is bathed in light as her curse is broken, but is surprised to find that she has remained an ogre. Shrek calms her by assuring her that she is still beautiful. The two of them get married in the swamp and depart on their honeymoon while the rest celebrate by singing "I'm a Believer".
- Mike Myers as Shrek
- Eddie Murphy as Donkey
- Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona
- John Lithgow as Lord Farquaad
- Vincent Cassel as Monsieur Hood (a French rendition of Robin Hood)
- Conrad Vernon as Gingerbread Man
- Chris Miller as Geppetto/Magic Mirror
- Cody Cameron as Pinocchio/The Three Little Pigs
- Simon J. Smith as Three Blind Mice
- Christopher Knights as Three Blind Mice and Thelonious
- Aron Warner as Big Bad Wolf
- Jim Cummings as Captain of the Guards
- Kathleen Freeman as Old Woman (Donkey's ex-owner)
- Andrew Adamson as Duloc Mascot (a man dressed in a suit that looks like Lord Farquaad)
- Bobby Block as Baby Bear from the Three Bears
- Michael Galasso as Peter Pan
- Elisa Gabrielli as Additional Voices
- "Every development deal starts with a pitch and my pitch came from my then kindergartener, in collaboration with his pre-school brother. Upon our second reading of Shrek, the kindergartener started quoting large segments of the book pretending he could read them. Even as an adult, I thought Shrek was outrageous, irreverent, inconolastic, gross, and just a lot of fun. He was a great movie character in search of a movie."
- ―John H. Williams, recounting the inspiration of making the film[src]
At the time DreamWorks was founded, producer John H. Williams got hold of the book from his children, and when he brought it to DreamWorks, it caught Jeffrey Katzenberg's attention and the studio decided to make it into a movie.
After buying the rights to the film, Katzenberg quickly put the film in active development. Steven Spielberg had thought about making a traditionally animated film of the book before, when he brought the rights to the book in 1991, before the founding of DreamWorks, where Bill Murray will play Shrek and Steve Martin would play Donkey. In the beginning of production, co-director Andrew Adamson refused to be intimidated by Katzenberg, and had an argument with how much should the film appeal to adults. Katzenberg wanted both audiences, but he found some of Adamson's ideas about adding sexual jokes and Guns N' Roses music to the soundtrack a bit too outrageous. Andrew Adamson and Kelly Asbury joined in 1997 to co-direct the film. However, Asbury left a year for work on the 2002 film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and was replaced with story artist Vicky Jenson. Both Adamson and Jenson decided to work on the film in half, so the crew could at least know who to go with specific detail questions about the film's sequences: "We both ended up doing a lot of everything", Adamson said. "We're both kinda control freaks, and we both wanted to do everything."
Some early sketches of Shrek's house were done in 1996 through 1997 using Photoshop, with the sketches showing Shrek first living in a garbage dump near a human village called Wart Creek. It was also one time that he lived with his parents and kept rotten fish in his bedroom. Donkey was modeled after Pericles (born 1994; also known as Perry), a real miniature donkey from Barron Park, Palo Alto, California. Raman Hui, the supervising animator of Shrek, stated that Fiona "wasn't based on any real person." and he did many different sketches for Princess Fiona and had done over 100 sculptures of Fiona before the directors picked the final design. In early development, the Art Directors visited Hearst Castle, Stratford upon Avon and Dordogne for inspiration. Art Director Douglas Rogers visited a magnolia plantation in Charleston, South Carolina for inspiration for Shrek's swamp. Planned characters not used in the film include Goldilocks and Sleeping Beauty.
Chris Farley was originally planned to do the voice of Shrek which he recorded 80 to 90% (or 95% according to Farley's brother Tom) of the dialogue for the character, but died before completing the project. DreamWorks then re-cast the voice role to Mike Myers, who insisted on a complete script rewrite, to leave no traces of Farley's version of Shrek. According to Myers, he wanted to voice the character "for two reasons: I wanted the opportunity to work with Jeffrey Katzenberg; and [the book is] a great story about accepting yourself for who you are."
After Myers had completed providing the voice for the character, when the film was well into production, he asked to re-record all of his lines in a Scottish accent similar to the one his mother had used when she told him bedtime stories and also used for his roles in other films such as, So I Married an Axe Murderer and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. According to the DVD commentary, he had also tried using country and Canadian accents. After hearing the alternative, Katzenberg agreed to redo scenes in the film, saying "it didn't cost the studio "millions of dollars," as rumored. "What it meant is instead of me going in for ten sessions, I went in for twenty sessions. I got paid the same." Because of Myers voicing the character, more ideas began to come. There were clearer story points, fresher gags and comedy bits. Myers said "I got a letter from Spielberg thanking me so much for caring about the character ...And he said the Scottish accent had improved the movie."
Another person planned to voice a character in the film was Janeane Garofalo, who was set to star alongside Farley as Princess Fiona. However, she was fired from the project with little explanation. Years later, Garofalo stated "I was never told why [I was fired]. I assume because I sound like a man sometimes? I don't know why. Nobody told me ... But, you know, the movie didn't do anything, so who cares?"
Shrek was originally set up to be a live-action/CG animated hybrid with background plate miniature sets and the main characters composited into the scene as motion-captured computer graphics, using an ExpertVision Hires Falcon 10 camera system to capture and apply realistic human movement to the characters. A sizeable crew was hired to run a test, and after a year and a half of R & D, the test was finally screened in May 1997. The results were not satisfactory, with Katzenberg stating, "It looked terrible, it didn't work, it wasn't funny, and we didn't like it." The studio then turned to its production partners at PDI, who began production with the studio in 1998 and helped Shrek get its final, computer-animated look. At this time Antz was still in production by the studio and Effects Supervisor Ken Bielenberg was asked by Aron Warner "to start development for Shrek." Similar to previous PDI films, PDI used its own proprietary software (like its own Fluid Animation System) for its animated movies. However, for some elements it also took advantage of some of the powerhouse animation software that was in the market. This is particularly true with Maya, which PDI used for most of its dynamic cloth animation and for the hair of Fiona and Farquaad.
"We did a lot of work on character and set-up, and then kept changing the set up while we were doing the animation," Hui noted "In Antz, we had a facial system that gave us all of the facial muscles under the skin. In Shrek, we applied that to the whole body. So if you pay attention to Shrek when he talks, you see that when he opens his jaw, he forms a double chin, because we have the fat and the muscles underneath. That kind of detail took us a long time to get right." One of the most difficult parts of creating the film was making Donkey's fur flow smoothly so that it didn't look like a Chia Pet's fur. This fell into the hands of the surfacing animators who used flow controls with a complex shader to provide the fur with many attributes (ability to change directions, lie flat, swirl, etc.). It was then the job of the visual effects group, lead by Ken Bielenberg, to make the fur react to environmental conditions. Once the technology was mastered, it was able to be applied by many aspects of the Shrek movie including grass, moss, beards, eyebrows, and even threads on Shrek's tunic. Making human hair realistic was different from Donkey's fur, requiring a separate rendering system and a lot of attention from the lighting and visual effects teams.
Shrek has 31 sequences, with 1,288 shots in every sequence total. Aron Warner said that the creators "envisioned a magical environment that you can immerse yourself into." Shrek includes 38 separate in-film locations to make the world of the film, which DreamWorks claimed was more than any previous computer animated feature before. In-film locations were finalized and as demonstrated by past DreamWorks animated movies, color and mood was of the utmost importance.
Shrek is the third DreamWorks animated film (and the only film in the Shrek series) to have Harry Gregson-Williams team up with John Powell to compose the score (after Antz (1998) and Chicken Run (2000)). John Powell was left out to compose scores for later Shrek films with Williams due to a conflict. The score was recorded at Abbey Road Studios by Nick Wollage and Slamm Andrews, with the latter mixing it at Media Ventures and Patrick Sullivan-Fourstar handling mastering.
Shrek introduced a new element to give the film a unique feel. The film used pop music and other Oldies to make the story more forward. Covers of songs like "On the Road Again" and "Try a Little Tenderness" we're integrated into the film's score. As the film was about to be completed, Katzenberg suggested to the filmmakers to redo the film's ending to "go out with a big laugh"; Instead of ending the film with just a storybook closing over Shrek and Fiona as they ride off into the sunset, they decided to add a song "I'm a Believer" covered by Smash Mouth and show all of the fairytale creatures in the film.
Although Rufus Wainwright's version of the song "Hallelujah" appeared on the soundtrack album, it was John Cale's version that appeared in the film; in a radio interview, Rufus Wainwright suggested that his version of "Hallelujah" did not appear in the film due to the "glass ceiling" he was hitting because of his sexuality. An alternate explanation posits that because Wainwright was an artist for DreamWorks and John Cale was not, thus licensing issues prohibited Cale's version from appearing in the soundtrack album, despite having the filmmakers wanting to have Cale's version appear in the film.
In many places the film references classic movies, predominantly those by Disney. When Tinker Bell falls on Donkey and says "I can fly" and people around including the three little pigs say "He can fly, he can fly"; this is a reference to Disney's Peter Pan. This scene is also a reference to the Disney film Dumbo, while Donkey says, while flying "You might have seen a house fly, maybe even a super fly, but I bet you ain't never seen a Donkey fly" The scene where Fiona is singing to the blue bird is a reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The transformation scene at the end of the film strongly references to Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
When Shrek crosses the bridge to the Castle and says, "That'll do, Donkey, that'll do," this is a reference to the movie Babe. The scene where Princess Fiona is fighting the Merry Men is a lengthy reference to the film The Matrix, which was released before the film in 1999. At the end of the film, the Gingerbread Man at the end with a crutch (and one leg) says "God bless us, everyone" which is a reference to Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.
In the scene where the Magic Mirror gives Lord Farquaad the option to marry three princesses, it parodies popular American television show The Dating Game featuring: Cinderella and Snow White. In addition, Lord Farquaad's theme park style kingdom Duloc heavily mimics Disneyland, even in so far as parodying the famous 'It's A Small World Afterall' musical ride in the scene with the singing puppets.
- Robin Williams was originally going to have a role in the film, but dropped out when he found out that one of the producers, Jeffery Katzenburg, was producing the film, he dropped out. The reason why is because Williams recently worked with Katzenburg on Aladdin and had disputes with each other.
- There are so many Disney references in this movie.
- Chris Farley was originally cast as Shrek and even recorded almost 100% of the dialog. But after he died from his drug overdose, his fellow Saturday Night Live member, Mike Meyers, took the role and demanded the screenplay re-written after looking at it.
- Fairy Godmother was going to be in here but was cut, but was put in Shrek 2.
- Computer animation for the movie began in late 1996 and took four and a half years to complete. In fact it took so long that the crew began production on Shrek 2.
- Donkey was modeled after a real donkey from California.
- The burp that Fiona burps in the movie was a real burp that Cameron Diaz (Fiona's voice) did after she drank a Coke.
- Even though John Lithgow loved voicing Lord Farquad, he was disappointed that he never saw the other voice actors.
- The opening song, "Allstar", by Smash Mouth was just a test song until the team found a different song. But the test audiences loved the song so much the team let it stay and even let Smash Mouth sing the ending song.
- The line, "Alright you're going the right way for a smack bottom" was what Mike Meyers actually said to one of the directors when they were annoying him.
- The song "Welcome to Duloc" was based on the Disney World theme song "It's a small world".
- Eddy Murphy says that playing Donkey was his best performance and Shrek is his best movie he's done.
- Loosely based on William Steig's children's book of the same name.
- When Shrek and Donkey first arrive at Lord Farquad's castle, you'll notice that there is a banner that says "You are now parked in Lancelot." Lancelot appears in Shrek the Third as a high school joust team member.
- Anything involving animating water, mud or, fire proved to be a hassle.