For years, Shrek was considered the ugly stepchild of the DreamWorks empire.
The way director Andrew Adamson saw it, company co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg "was going through his 'I want to make serious animation for adults,'" Adamson recently told Inverse. And the flatulent, anti-social, cantankerous AF ogre didn't exactly fit the bill. "This was sort of a bastard child," Adamson continued. "It was the island of misfit toys to a large degree. Everyone who didn't work out on another project got sent onto Shrek."
Agreed editor Sim Evan-Jones, "There was always a little bit of a rebel spirit about the Shrek gang. There was a shared empathy that everyone wanted to do things in an unconventional way."
So they kept plugging away, writing their crude jokes and perfecting their computer-generated animation. And when Katzenberg saw the finished project—in which a repugnant ogre joins a wise-cracking donkey on a quest to save a princess in a send-up of every animated movie that came before it—he was a believer.
"We had one screening where we'd scored something really high," Adamson recalled. "And I remember Jeffrey saying to me afterward, 'Get ready for this. This may only happen once in your life.'"
This turned out to be a $3.5 billion-grossing franchise, the all-star cast of Mike Myers (the titular ogre), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona) and Eddie Murphy (Donkey)—and 95 minutes of literal LOL-worthy jokes, largely at Disney's expense, leading to a $484.4 million box office gross, an Oscar, three sequels, two holiday specials, a spin-off and a Broadway show. (Not to mention all the merchandise that has flooded the market since the original film's May 18, 2001 release.)
Plus there's that earworm of a cover song from Smash Mouth.
So the ending was certainly happy, but Shrek's origin story—dating back to Steven Spielberg purchasing the rights to the book of the same name in 1991—wasn't exactly the stuff of fairytales. To properly celebrate the 20th anniversary of a film the Library of Congress deemed worthy of preservation in the National Film Registry, we must start at the beginning.
Once upon a time, there was a picture book, a legendary director, a former Disney CEO and their brand new animation studio...
(E! and DreamWorks Animation are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)