CLOSE
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
Shout! Factory
arrow
entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About Mystery Science Theater 3000
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

While the rest of America was slipping into a turkey coma on Thanksgiving Day in 1988, Minneapolis area residents lucky enough to get clear reception of local UHF channel KTMA were getting the first taste of what would soon become a Turkey Day tradition: Mystery Science Theater 3000, the classic cult television show which made a sport out of mocking schlocky movies of the past. The premise was simple: two mad scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt, launch a janitor (local comedian Joel Hodgson, as Joel Robinson) into space to study the effect bad movies have on the human mind in order to determine the single film that can help them in their efforts toward world domination.

But as it turns out, human beings can withstand a whole lot of bad acting, sloppy pacing, and ridiculous dialogue. Rather than drive them to the brink of insanity, Joel and the robot friends he built while orbiting Earth—Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy, and Cambot—found a certain amount of pleasure in having to endure these B-movies, spending the bulk of the show offering their own bitingly funny analyses of the on-screen happenings. It didn’t take long for audiences to catch on, or for MST3K to migrate to a national stage.

1. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 WAS BORN FROM FINANCIAL RESTRAINTS.

After trying his luck on the grander Hollywood stage for a few years, comedian Joel Hodgson moved back to Minneapolis with the idea of launching his own television show. There was just one problem: he had no budget. “Basically, Mystery Science Theater came from me saying, ‘What’s the cheapest possible show I could create that would still be novel and bring something new, [and] kind of have a new angle of doing something funny?’” Hodgson told Flavorwire of the show’s origins. “It all just came together, basically, at that point when I realized it could be like hosting a movie show, and if I utilized the silhouette thing, the characters will kind of run not only through the host segments, but through the entire movie, and they’ll be, like, companions.” 

2. THE “3000” IN THE TITLE WAS MEANT TO BE CONFOUNDING.

“The 3000 was a joke on all the people that were attaching the year 2000 to various programs,” said Hodgson in a 2011 interview with Art of the Title. “In the late ’80s it was everywhere: ‘America 2000’ was something that George Bush Sr. was talking about a lot so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I name it 3000 just to confound people?’ But there was a lot of confusion about it. I never meant for the show to take place in the year 3000. That simply makes no sense! If it is the year 3000, then why are all the films and the references about the end of the 20th century? For the concept of the show, it’s just a series number like Galaxie 500 or HAL 9000. Fords aren’t from the year 500 and the HAL wasn’t from the year 9000. In hindsight, I think it’s likely that the Mads were trying to snazz up the name of the show by tacking on the 3000.” 

3. IN ORDER TO GAUGE THE AUDIENCE’S REACTION, THE PRODUCERS SET UP A PHONE LINE.

Even after its initial debut, the creators of MST3K had no idea whether the show had connected with audiences. So writer-producer Jim Mallon (who voiced Gypsy) suggested they set up a viewer hotline and run the number during the next airing. “When we checked the answering machine on Monday, it was full,” Hodgson told Flavorwire. “So people just reacted to it.” This led Hodgson and company to set up a local fan club for the show, which quickly acquired 1000 members.

4. MST3K’S (FIRST) CANCELLATION WAS ALSO BORN FROM FINANCIAL RESTRAINTS.

As MST3K’s popularity was rising, the fortunes of its broadcaster—KTMA—were moving in the opposite direction, which led to the show’s (first) cancellation in May of 1989. As a thank you to the many local fans who had tuned in religiously, the cast put on a live version of the show at the Comedy Gallery, which attracted an audience of more than 600.

As MST3K neared the end of its run on KTMA, the producers put together a short “best of” reel in order to pitch it to other networks. The show caught the attention of executives at The Comedy Channel, a brand-new, 24-hour comedy network owned by HBO, which premiered on November 15, 1989. Three days later, Mystery Science Theater 3000 made its national debut as one of the channel’s anchor programs.

5. AS PART OF THE COMEDY CHANNEL DEAL, HODGSON AND MALLON INSISTED ON KEEPING ITS PRODUCTION IN MINNEAPOLIS.

While the bulk of The Comedy Channel’s programming was produced on site in New York City, the channel agreed to let Hodgson and Mallon continue shooting in Minneapolis. They did, however, spruce up the look of the show with new sets, revamped robots, and a new opening title sequence. 

6. THE BIGGEST CHANGE TO THE MST3K FORMULA WAS IN TURNING TO A SCRIPTED FORMAT.


Shout! Factory

The early episodes of MST3K were ad-libbed, but in 1989, Hodgson decided that the show should take a turn for the scripted. As part of this change, Hodgson hired writer (and future host) Michael J. Nelson. “I hired Mike based on his act at an open mic and a recommendation from Josh [Weinstein],” Hodgson told Mental Floss. “Also writing the eps was my call.”

7. IN 1991, MST3K BEGAN A NEW THANKSGIVING DAY TRADITION.

MST3K became Comedy Central’s signature series, with executives nearly doubling its run from 13 to 24 episodes per year in 1991. On Thanksgiving of the same year it launched what would become an annual event: a 30-hour MST3K marathon that came to be known as “Turkey Day,” featuring back-to-back episodes plus behind-the-scenes spots and interviews. In the four years it ran, several of the stars of the films the series mocked—including Adam West (star of Zombie Nightmare), Robert Vaughn (of Teenage Cave Man), and Mamie van Doren (of Untamed Youth and Girls Town)—hosted “Turkey Day.” In honor of the show’s 25th anniversary, Hodgson brought back “Turkey Day” in 2013. For 2017, the marathon will stream via Shout! Factory, beginning at 12 p.m. ET.

8. JOEL’S DEPARTURE IN 1993 WAS THE RESULT OF CREATIVE DIFFERENCES.

After sitting through his final test of cinematic endurance (Mitchell, starring Joe Don Baker—a skewering that led Baker to claim that if he ever met anyone from the show he would “kick their asses”), Joel managed to escape the Satellite of Love with the help of an office temp, Mike Nelson, who the Mads then captured in place of Joel. In a 1999 interview with The A.V. Club, Hodgson admitted that his decision to leave the show was because of disagreements with Jim Mallon. “You can't really be fighting with someone and doing all the stuff you have to do,” said Hodgson. “I think what made the show work for me was that I really loved it. I really liked the audience, and the whole process was ... I was really happy doing it, and I realized that I'd turn into Jerry Lewis or something if I started to kind of hate it. And that was starting to happen, just because of these conflicts I was having internally with Jim … The thing would have blown up if we both would have stayed there. I like to look at it like the story of King Solomon, when the baby was brought before him.”

9. WHEN COMEDY CENTRAL CANCELLED MST3K IN 1996, FANS (A.K.A. MSTIES) TOOK IT UPON THEMSELVES TO RESURRECT THE SERIES.

Viewers put pen to paper and began a massive letter-writing campaign to save the series. The fan outburst didn’t change Comedy Central’s mind, but executives at the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) understood their plight. And so on February 1, 1997, MST3K began its eighth season on its third network. The episode introduced audiences to Professor Bobo, an ape from the year 2525.

In 1999, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was cancelled again, and fans once again launched a campaign to see the show resurrected, with Entertainment Weekly reporting that “efforts to save the show include more than a dozen ‘Save MST3K’ websites, a letter-writing push, and a pledge drive for ‘Save MST3K’ print ads.” The campaign led to a full-page ad in Daily Variety, but Sci-Fi Channel decision-makers remained unmoved, with then-VP of programming Bonnie Hammer citing low ratings coupled with the rising costs of securing film rights (for movies to be ridiculed by the cast) as the problem. Sensing the end was truly near, Nelson admitted: “I'm hoping to find a rich guy to just keep me in his living room and heckle live.” 

10. KURT VONNEGUT, JR. WASN’T A FAN.

In 1996, Jim Mallon and writers Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy released the ultimate fan guide, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. In it, Murphy shares the story about meeting his literary hero, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and telling him about the show and its premise. Vonnegut was not impressed, telling Murphy that every artist deserves respect, even those who produce a bad movie. Still, Murphy couldn’t resist the opportunity to invite Vonnegut out to dinner, which the author politely declined, stating he had other plans. At dinner that night, Murphy and Vonnegut ended up dining at the same restaurant—except Vonnegut was alone, prompting Murphy to admit that he had been “faced ... but nicely faced.”

11. FRANK ZAPPA WAS A FAN.

Frank Zappa was an admitted monster movie fanatic, and wasn’t shy about his love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its run. A 1997 article in Total TV Online noted: “MST3K … made the late Frank Zappa an instant convert when he channel surfed into ‘this guy wearing a clown nose and a beanie copter roasting a puppet over an open fire.’ The clown was now-departed (and much beloved) Founding Father Joel Hodgson; the roasted puppet was plucky Tom Servo; and Zappa was equally bemused by the cinematic turkeys being roasted for the main course. ‘He just loved crummy old science fiction movies,’ says writer and voice of Servo Kevin Murphy, who thought ‘Frank Zappa on line one’ was a joke until he picked up the phone.” The show’s producers and Zappa had even discussed plans to collaborate on a giant spider movie; episode 523 was dedicated to Zappa following his passing. 

12. A HUMAN-LESS MST3K WEB SERIES DEBUTED IN 2007.

On November 5, 2007, Mallon debuted an animated Web series, The Bots Are Back!, which followed Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy’s adventures in space. Fan response was not positive, and only four episodes were ever released.

13. THE WORLD HAS MST3K TO THANK FOR HOBGOBLINS 2.

While not every filmmaker whose worked featured on the series was happy about the development, Hobgoblins director Rick Sloane came to see the positive side of the skewering. "I met Mary Jo Pehl a number of years later and she said I was the only director who ever liked the MST3K treatment of their own film," Sloane told Esquire. "They improved the film dramatically. It was barely watchable in its original version. While I enjoyed every joke that was at an actor's expense, I was seriously horrified when they did the fake interview with me over the end credits. It's become a fan-favorite joke and is constantly quoted on the Internet." But there was an upside to the notoriety: Hobgoblins became so widely known, that it led to the opportunity for a sequel. "I admitted from day one that Hobgoblins 2 was only possible because of the success of MST3K's revival of the original," said Sloane. "I submitted Hobgoblins 2 to both Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax, but they both thought it was too easy of a target."

14. THE SHOW'S TITLE SPAWNED A VERB.

MSTing” is a practice that exists in the fan fiction universe, typically written in a transcript format, in which the characters of one piece of fic (or MST3K’s own characters) commentate another piece of fic. The process is also referred to as sporking.

15. THE RIFFING LIVES ON.

When new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 stopped being produced, the original cast kept riffing. In 2006, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett introduced a Web series called RiffTrax, which allows customers to download commentary tracks to sync with a movie. Throughout the year, the group also presents several RiffTrax Live performances at cinemas around the country. In 2007, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl launched Cinematic Titanic, offering a selection of riffed DVDs and a series of live events.

In 2017, a new generation of fans were introduced to Mystery Science Theater 3000 when—after a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the series back—Netflix debuted Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return, with Jonah Ray hosting.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2013.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
TAKWest, Youtube
arrow
entertainment
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios