He’s green, he’s mean, and he’s got horrific onion breath. Best of all he was introduced to the world on this day, May 18, 2001. You guessed it, it’s Shrek. Movie studio DreamWorks SKG, which was founded by Hollywood heavy-hitters Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, and Steven Spielberg produced the film. And to the date, it had been the most successful film they had produced under DreamWorks SKG. But like many aspects of our modern entertainment, the idea for Shrek was not original.
The move was based on a children’s book by William Steig, published in 1990. Then Shrek was brilliantly remastered by the animators of DreamWorks, as sort of a more morbid twist of Disney’s classic, Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast, also an unoriginal idea but nonetheless a classic. Initially, DreamWorks approached, and then later signed, late comedian Chris Farley to play the voice of the surly beast. But when Farley tragically passed away in December of 1997, production for the movie was put on hold. The character of Shrek was completely tailored to Farley’s voice and his personality, so it was back to the drawing board (literally) for animators.
Soon after Farley’s death, Mike Myers signed-on to be the new voice of Shrek. Myers even offered his own spin on the character’s voice, which included a thick Scottish accent. That’s right folks, originally Shrek was not a Scottish ogre. The film touched upon many sentimental fairy tale adages but with a twist. For example, portraying a more sympathetic side of the conventional “bad-guy” figures such as dragons and ogres. Also, Prince Charming is anything but charming, in fact he is a bumbling clod.
The cast of Shrek is star-studded, to say the least. Along with Myers as the voice of Shrek, Eddie Murphy plays the voice of Donkey, and was also allowed to improvise his role to tailor his personality. Cameron Diaz plays Princess Fiona, who happens to be a bumbling ogre herself in the end (spoiler alert!) And John Lithgow was the conniving Lord Farquaad. In a unique scheme for marketing, the movie was promoted as the stars being the voices behind the characters, rather than the characters themselves. That began a trend of many animated films thereafter, where the focus lies mainly upon the person doing the voice and not the character.
Shrek was entered into the Cannes Film Festival earlier that year, which made it the first animated entry viable to compete in the prestigious festival since 1974. The film ended its stay in France with no prizes, but word-of-mouth was spreading about the boisterous laugh-out-loud comedy.
The movie opened to great reviews, and brought in $42 million during opening weekend. That was the biggest DreamWorks opening in its history. In 2002, Shrek beat out Disney’s Monsters, Inc. at the Oscar’s for Best Animated Feature, this was also the first Oscar to ever be given in that category. This victory laid the foundation for DreamWorks to be one of the top studios in Hollywood.