Dreamworks
Dreamworks

15 Giant Facts About Shrek

Dreamworks
Dreamworks

Delayed significantly because of the death of its star, a full decade elapsed between the time Steven Spielberg bought the movie rights to a children’s book about an ornery green ogre and the day Shrek showed up in movie theaters. The Dreamworks project went from doomed to successful when the anti-fairy tale fairy tale became popular enough to spawn three sequels and a spin-off prequel, and critically acclaimed enough to become the first ever recipient of the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Here are 15 things you might not know about Shrek.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN BY AN 83-YEAR-OLD.

Shrek was loosely based on William Steig’s 1990 picture book, Shrek! Steig was a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker and a children’s writer who Newsweek once dubbed the “king of cartoons.” Steig passed away at the age of 95 in 2003, two years after Shrek's release.

2. STEVEN SPIELBERG WANTED BILL MURRAY AND STEVE MARTIN TO PLAY SHREK AND DONKEY.

The mogul bought the rights to the book in 1991, picturing Shrek as a standard hand-drawn animated film for his Amblin Entertainment company with the two comedians in mind in the lead roles. He couldn’t get the project off the ground until years later though—after Dreamworks SKG, the studio he ran with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, came to be in 1994.

3. THE PRODUCER’S KIDS ARE WHAT FINALLY GOT SHREK A GREEN LIGHT.

John H. Williams’ tykes, a kindergartner and a pre-schooler, brought Shrek! to their producer father’s attention. The two children loved the book and read it multiple times. Williams brought it to Katzenberg, and the project finally got off the ground from there.

4. CHRIS FARLEY WAS THE ORIGINAL SHREK.

Farley was not only cast in the title role, but he had actually completed recording somewhere between 80 to 95 percent of his dialogue before he passed away in 1997. In the version of the film Farley worked on, Shrek was a teenage ogre who didn’t want to go into the family business and had aspirations of becoming a knight.

5. NICOLAS CAGE TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE BECAUSE HE DIDN’T WANT TO BE AN OGRE.

Dreamworks executives considered Tom Cruise and Leonard DiCaprio for Shrek, until Katzenberg offered Nicolas Cage the part. Cage told the Daily Mail that he turned the role down because "I just didn't want to look like an ogre." Though, upon reflection, Cage realized that "Maybe I should have done it looking back."

6. MIKE MYERS DECIDED TO DO SHREK IN A SCOTTISH ACCENT AFTER SEEING A ROUGH CUT.

After first trying an SNL “Lothar of the Hill People” voice and a thick Canadian accent, Myers finally settled on the now distinct Scottish intonation. According to Katzenberg, the studio spent an additional $4 million to start all over again doing it Myers’ way. The star disputed that it was really that much of an added expense.

7. NOBODY TOLD MYERS THAT HE WAS REPLACING CHRIS FARLEY.

He said that he guessed correctly early in the process by just looking at a maquette of Shrek modeled on his former SNL co-star's physique, but nobody would confirm the truth to him. Myers didn’t find out until 2012.

8. JANEANE GAROFALO WAS THE ORIGINAL PRINCESS FIONA.

But she was fired from the project, and the comedian-actress still does not know why. A report stated that she was initially hired because her sarcasm would balance out Farley’s positivity, and with the change in the casting of Shrek, Fiona’s part needed to change as well.

9. DONKEY WAS MODELED AFTER A REAL MINIATURE DONKEY IN PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA.

Pericles, a.k.a. “Perry,” was born in 1994 and is from Barron Park, near the home of Dreamworks. His companion is Miner Forty-Niner, a.k.a. “Niner”, who is considered a donkey of “normal” size.

10. THE MOVIE WAS SUPPOSED TO LOOK MUCH DIFFERENT.

Shrek was conceived to be a live-action/CG animation hybrid, but a test screening for studio executives in the middle of 1997 was deemed unsatisfactory. Dreamworks’ production partners, PDI (Pacific Data Images), were then tasked with making the animation for all of Shrek’s 31 sequences, with 1,288 shots in each sequence, and 36 different locations.

11. THE FILMMAKERS WENT ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY.

Some members of the movie's development team took mud showers to study the movement of mud. Art director Douglas Rogers visited a magnolia plantation for research—and was chased away by an alligator.

12. THE MOVIE WAS SCREENED BY DREAMWORKS AND DISNEY LAWYERS TO AVOID POSSIBLE LAWSUITS.

Shrek was considered by some to be a series of jabs at Disney, with its general cynicism toward the traditional fairy tales that Disney had presented in movie form since 1937, Farquaad’s castle resembling Disneyland, and Farquaad’s diminutive stature possibly a reference to an infamous quote by Katzenberg’s former Disney boss Michael Eisner about his hatred of the former employee in a lawsuit. While there was no legal action, some Radio Disney affiliates did not allow Dreamworks to buy ad time to promote Shrek.

13. JOHN LITHGOW BROKE A PERSONAL RULE WHEN HE AGREED TO PLAY FARQUAAD.

The 6’4” actor always said he would never play anyone short, but he couldn’t pass up the Shrek role. He believed that part of the joke of his casting was the difference between his height and his character’s.

14. THE GINGERBREAD MAN CO-DIRECTED THE SEQUEL.

Conrad Vernon was a storyboard artist in the original, and directed Shrek 2 with Andrew Adamson and Kelly Asbury. When Vernon refused to direct the third film because directing the sequel took up too much time and his efforts, the voice of the Magic Mirror, Chris Miller, co-directed Shrek the Third.

15. THE MOVIE SAVED DREAMWORKS.

In 2007, Katzenberg said that Shrek not only saved the company financially speaking, but that it gave Dreamworks Animation an image that allowed them to make the Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon franchises.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios