Believe it or not, before Shrek was a meme, he was the star of his own animated movie. Released in 2001, Shrek literally and figuratively (for all you pedants) took over the world, dominating the box office and taking home the very first Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Since then, Shrek’s starred in three sequels, with a fourth in the works, a theme park ride, several video games, and the series got its very own spin-off Puss in Boots. Before Shrek was a pop-culture juggernaut, though, people didn’t have much faith in the family movie, even those working on it. In fact, it was considered a punishment at Dreamworks to work on Shrek.
Film journalist Nicole Laporte revealed this in her book, Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks. According to an animator she interviewed, “[Shrek] was known as the Gulag. If you failed on Prince of Egypt, you were sent to the dungeons to work on Shrek.” The punishment even had its own nickname internally where it was known as being “Shreked”.
To be fair, it’s easy through the benefit of hindsight to think this is absurd, but the production of Shrek could be generously called a f*cking nightmare. Work began on Shrek as early as 1995 when Steven Spielberg brought the project to the newly founded Dreamworks.
Former Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg began developing the project, and the plan was to use 3D animation to bring the green ogre to life. There was just one problem in the ’90s computer animation was in its infancy, and no one outside of Pixar had managed to release a feature-length 3D animated film.
As such, work on the film was painfully slow as the animators had to learn as they worked on the movie. A technology caught up to the ambition of the project. The work became easier, but there were other problems.
The first was Katzenberg, who wanted an edgy tone for the film to separate it from work being done at Disney. There was reportedly a fair amount of back and forth on what this meant, with some concerned the film was too adult.
Then the unthinkable happened. Chris Farley, Shrek’s original voice actor, died, forcing Dreamworks to recast. In came Mike Myers, who had a completely different vision for the character, meaning the hardworking animators had to reanimate whole sections of the movie.
Still, it all worked out in the end. Shrek’s widely beloved both ironically and non ironically the world over. If you love Shrek, check out our list of the best Disney movies.