Shrek Forever After puts a new twist — er, well, an old twist — on the Shrek universe, as everyone's favorite ogre tires of his domestic life and bargains with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) for an opportunity to experience a day where he's a feared ogre again. Instead of getting what he wanted, Shrek learns what life would have been like if he had never been born, sort of like a certain black-and-white favorite played during the holiday season.
Last week we attended the press conference for the movie, now ominously known as Shrek: The Final Chapter. It was held in two waves: The first held director Mike Mitchell and several producers, while the second had almost the entire cast, including the returning cast of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas, along with newcomers Dorn, Jon Hamm, Craig Robinson, and even Ryan Seacrest, whose small role as the father of a precocious kid at a birthday party for Shrek's kids left him free to moderate the actors' portion of the day.
With a history dating back to 1998, when Dreamworks started work on the original Shrek, there was plenty to discuss, especially with the Shrek franchise evidently coming to a close with the 3-D Final Chapter. That said, here are our favorite highlights from the day.
1. Walt Dohrn won the role of Rumpelstiltskin by being cheap.
When asked how writer and story artist Walt Dohrn ended up as the voice of Rumpelstiltskin, director Mike Mitchell explained that Dohrn recorded the voice on a scratch track — a temporary track recorded before the actors are brought in — and the voice, well, stuck.
It's a tradition at Dreamworks, we do scratch tracks. So a lot of times we go down to the scratch booth just to see how a scene's working and do a voice, and in this instance, we're moving through the film and seeing what it sounded like, and when it was time to replace Walt's voice and to cast someone, we found that his voice was just irreplaceable. It was just so funny and so engaging, and, in fact, when these two producers announced it to all the animators that we were indeed sticking with the scratch track that Walt provided, all the animators in the theater stood up and cheered. They couldn't wait to animate to this weaselly, ratty, little voice that Walt had come up with.
Producer Aron Warner summed up Dohrn's hiring in another way. "The real reason was that he was way less expensive," Warner quipped.
2. Jon Hamm almost ruined the movie.
Mitchell explained that Hamm's role as the ogre Brogan in the movie was not completely set when the actor arrived to record his voice. Originally intended to be a romantic rival to Shrek, Mitchell soon found that Hamm's charisma made it impossible.
You know, how we're making it and writing it at the same time and exploring every avenue to tell the best story. And, at one point, Brogan kinda had the make on Fiona and Shrek is like "who is that guy?" And we recorded a lot of lines with Jon Hamm and he was so charming and so engaging that it was, like, hurting our story. You were like, "I want her to be with that guy! He's so cool and charming and sexy!"
3. Eddie Murphy only does the Donkey voice at home.
Murphy admitted that no one requests for him to do the voice of Donkey. Rather, they "come up and do lines" of the movie instead, leaving him to save the voice for other opportunities.
The only time I'll do that voice of that Donkey is when I can do a shadow puppet of the Donkey. So if I'm watching a movie at home on the screen, and the movie's not good I'll have the Donkey come up and do commentary. [Stands up and finds a spotlight to demonstrate the Donkey shadow puppet]
It'd be like, [in Donkey's voice] "This movie ain't s**t! I wanna watch Shrek." I have it mastered in the home theater. Sometimes I take the Shrek ears, the little green ones, I have this shadow of me and Shrek. We've had some wild times in the house.
4. Cameron Diaz wishes Princess Fiona was more British.
Diaz admitted that if she had Shrek to do over again, she might try to sound more like Fiona's parents.
If I had known that Fiona's parents both had British accents when I first did it. Had I known it was Julie Andrews and John Cleese, I might've, you know ... because when I first started the movie, when I did my voice, I didn't know who was playing my parents. So it was sort of, you know, it was one of those things. I said, "Wait a second, why do I sound like I'm from California?"
5. This Shrek had to be made "less scary."
Mitchell revealed that Rumpelstiltskin's army of witches that appear in The Final Chapter had to be toned down for the movie.
As a matter of fact, there are some very funny witches in our film, that we laughed at in storyboards, and they were brilliantly animated and we laughed at them and then we saw them lit, and, you know, the technology has advanced so much that they look really real and scary. So we actually did go back and we scaled back a little bit on that because it scared us, we didn't even need to show it to a kid. We were like, "Whoah, these witches are terrifying!"
6. Craig Robinson's "best day ever" isn't complicated.
Much like Shrek is given the opportunity to relive his early ogre days, the cast talked about which day from their own individual past that they would like to relive. While Myers mentioned the day he was hired to Saturday Night Live and Diaz recalled a day she spent in Nepal riding an elephant, Craig Robinson's pick was far more simple.
"Last Thursday," said Robinson. Hmmm, it's definitely got us curious...
7. A Dreamworks inside-joke makes it into the movie.
Mitchell explained that a scene where Donkey inhales two eyeballs into his nostrils (it's much more innocent than it sounds), grew from an inside joke amongst animators at Dreamworks.
Since being around Dreamworks through Shrek 1, and Shrek 2, and Shrek 3, I always noticed around the animators' desks and the story board artists' desks they would always draw a picture of Donkey and they would make his nostrils into little eyes. And there's a little guy that lives at the end of Donkey's nose. Everyone would draw little sketches at the end of Donkey's nose as a little creature and he's not always syncing up to what Eddie Murphy's doing, he's a little weird guy at the end of his nose. And we've seen it for years and years, and, at one point, we all thought "wouldn't it be cool to somehow put that in the movie so everyone else can be in on this weird joke of this little puppet that lives at the end of Donkey's nose if you picture his nostrils as eyeballs." It's really weird. So that was how that got into the film. We figured out a way to finally get that joke into the film.
8. Puss in Boots' voice remains the same in several languages.
Diaz says the cast has seen portions of the Shrek movies in different languages, but no one is more intimate with the foreign versions of Shrek than Antonio Banderas. A native Spanish speaker, Banderas says he records "two different versions" of the Shrek movies, "one version for Spain, one for Latin America, and then I do the Italian version too."
"I did the Canadian version," said Myers. "Remarkably like the American one."
9. The Final Chapter may borrow from It's a Wonderful Life, but won't poke fun of its similarities.
While The Final Chapter's story is pretty clear copy of the Frank Capra classic, Mitchell said they decided against satirizing it.
We considered Shrek running through the streets saying, "Hello, movie theater!" But it's such an iconic film, that we really wanted to use it ... we really wanted to go out emotionally and have people walking away with the feeling of "OK, maybe there's no such thing as 'happily ever after' but even with all its flaws, life is really, really, really great."
And we certainly didn't want to make fun of It's a Wonderful Life. Even if it's so easy and it's ripe for the picking, we wanted to be more of an homage to that type of storytelling because I think it's a really powerful message so we leaned more towards the message than doing a Shrek parody of it.
10. The Final Chapter could indeed be the last Shrek movie, but there will be a spin-off.
After three successful movies, and a fourth poised to open in 3-D, Warner told the crowd that, nevertheless, this would be the final Shrek.
You know, I've been on all four Shreks for 12 years, so as of May 21, 2010, the paychecks stop coming. So it's pretty final. That's definitely our intent. It's the last film. We've made it live up to that.
Mitchell seemed to concur that the end in nigh for the popular franchise.
We brought to a satisfying conclusion, I feel. We were really conscious in summing up the previous Shrek films. Yes, it's kinda sad, it's the final one.
There is a Puss in Boots spin-off in the works, which Mitchell described was akin to "The Jeffersons splitting off from All In the Family." Banderas says that the spin-off "goes in a different direction" than Shrek and "takes more from Sergio Leone and western movies."
However, Cameron and Myers admitted they would be interested in returning for a fifth Shrek somewhere down the line. "Hopefully, we won't have to wait that long," said Diaz as she rose slightly from her chair to look towards the end of the ballroom. "Jeffrey Katzenberg?"