When DreamWorks SKG was formed, former Disney Animation guru Jeffery Katzenberg was intent on making animated films at his newly created movie studio. By 2000, the studio already had two animated films under their belt (Antz and The Prince of Egypt) and their focus was on 2D animation. While Katzenberg was determined to re-capture the 2D animation magic he enjoyed while at Disney, a handful of animators were working on the “ugly duckling” film of the studio: a weird little picture called Shrek. Fast-forward to the critical and financial disaster that was The Road to El Dorado in the midst of Pixar’s wild success with 3D animated films, and everyone’s attention focused on the only 3D film the studio had in the pipeline, Shrek.
What began as a laborious project, on which animators were sent to work as punishment, suddenly became the studio’s saving grace. Witty, edgy, and ballsy as hell, Shrek was the anti-Disney film; a giant middle finger from Jeffery Katzenberg to those at Disney that had ousted him so suddenly. An instant smash-hit, the film spawned the studio’s first franchise and a merchandising cash-cow. Now, Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After are available together on Blu-ray for the first time. My review of the Shrek: The Whole Story box set after the jump.
Since this is a box set, and the quality of the four Shrek films varies wildly, I’ve divided my review up into four sections: one for each film. In addition to the special features that were included on the original DVD releases of the Shrek films, the Blu-rays also include an exclusive documentary entitled “The Animator’s Corner” that’s divided into four parts, one on each disc, which works as a picture-in-picture commentary that runs throughout the film.
Fundamentally different from most of the animated films before it, Shrek opened at a time when 3D animation was all the rage. After the success of Toy Story, and especially after the success of Pixar’s subsequent films, it was obvious that 3D animation was here to stay. Every studio in town was rushing films into production to get in on the action. Instead of imitating Pixar, DreamWorks turned the 3D animated film on its head and put their own twist on it. Thus, Shrek was born. Directed by Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia) and Vicky Jenson (Shark Tale), Shrek was a fairy tale with edge. The script, which included Pirates of the Caribbean screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio among the credited writers, featured not only jokes for kids, but also jokes that left children scratching their heads while they’re parents howled with laughter.
The story, about an Ogre who must rescue a princess from the lazy/narcissistic Lord Farquaad in order to make all the annoying fairy tale creatures leave his swamp, is chock-full of pop culture references and sly nods to the audience. Featuring talented voice work from Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, the film left you smiling from ear-to-ear as you left the theater.
Blu-Ray Exclusive—The Animator’s Journey: Shrek’s Interactive Journey I
Other features—Spotlight on Donkey (HD), Secrets of Shrek (HD), Deleted Scenes, Filmmaker’s Commentary, “Shrek, Rattle & Roll” Music & More, Karaoke Dance Party (HD)
Following the massive success of the first film, DreamWorks quickly began work on a sequel. A rarity in Hollywood, Shrek 2 was widely received as just as good, if not better, than the first film. Employing plenty of the snark and wit that made the first Shrek so much fun, Shrek 2 also introduced immensely entertaining new characters with Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots, Ruper Everett’s Prince Charming and Jennifer Saunders’ deliciously devilish Fairy Godmother.
Shrek 2 finds Shrek and Fiona, now married, traveling to Far Far Away to meet Fiona’s parents. Once there, Shrek realizes that he’s hardly the “prince charming” Fiona dreamed about marrying, and leaves the kingdom. Wrestling with “true love” being torn apart, Shrek and Fiona each battle ever-increasing obstacles in the way of their happiness together, including a spurned Fairy Godmother (who also happens to be the mother of Fiona’s would-be husband Prince Charming).
Blu-Ray Exclusive—The Animator’s Journey: Shrek’s Interactive Journey II
Other Features—Spotlight on Puss in Boots (HD), Secrets of Shrek 2 (HD), Filmmaker’s Commentary, “Shrek, Rattle & Roll” Music & More, Far Far Away Idol (HD)
Getting sequel-happy, DreamWorks figured “what the hell?” and rushed yet another Shrek film into production, with Chris Miller taking over the director’s chair. This time, things turned out a bit differently. While still a commercial success (this is Shrek we’re talking about), the third film hardly lived up to the originality, or even fun, that made the first two films so enjoyable. Shrek the Third plays more like a painfully predictable direct-to-DVD spinoff, put together lazily and without a shred of thought as to what would make an enjoyable/entertaining experience beyond tired and recycled jokes from the first two films.
In Shrek the Third, Fiona’s father is dying and Shrek is reluctant to take over for him as King. On his deathbed, Fiona’s father tells Shrek of a heretofore unmentioned heir to the throne, his nephew Arthur (voiced by Justin Timberlake). Of course, Shrek, Donkey and Puss-in-Boots set out to find Arthur in order to bring him back to the kingdom, but it turns out this “Artie” is no more than a wimpy little teenager. While away from the kingdom, Prince Charming attacks the castle with a band of villains and attempts to seize the throne. Shrek and his band of misfits, with Artie in tow, must win the kingdom back in an epic……musical showdown.
Blu-Ray Exclusive—The Animator’s Journey: Shrek’s Interactive Journey III
Other Features—Spotlight on Fiona (HD), Secrets of Shrek the Third (HD), Deleted Scenes (HD), How to Be Green (HD), “Shrek, Rattle & Roll” Music & More, Worcestershire Academy Yearbook
After the abysmal Shrek the Third, DreamWorks decided they had milked the Shrek franchise for all that it was worth……almost. Once more unto the breach, dear friends! While not as terribly inept as Shrek the Third, this concluding chapter in the Shrek franchise didn’t really re-capture the magic of the first two films. A fine ending to the story, I suppose, Shrek Forever After at least feels like the filmmakers did their best to create the most entertaining film they could after drying up the Shrek well with three previous films. Sky High director Mike Mitchell directs this final installment, taking advantage of an It’s a Wonderful Life-like “what if?” storyline in order to drum up some fresh material.
For the last Shrek film, a new villain is introduced: Rumplestiltskin. Sneaky, conniving, and surprisingly engaging, Rumplestiltskin cons the tired and domesticated Shrek into giving up a day from his childhood he wouldn’t remember being erased in exchange for one day of life as a “real ogre”, before he fell in love with Fiona. This being a con and all, Rumplestiltskin erases the day Shrek was born, therefore transforming Far Far Away into a kingdom where Shrek never exists. Rumplestiltskin is now king, Donkey is a slave, and Fiona is an ogre warrior leading a band of other ogres in resistance to King Rumplestiltskin. Shrek, now a stranger to all who knew him before, must befriend Donkey and Puss all over again and win the love of Fiona anew, all the while saving the kingdom from Rumplestiltskin’s reign.
Blu-Ray Exclusive—Conversation With the Cast (HD), The Tech of Shrek Forever After (HD), The Animators’ Journey: Shrek’s Interactive Journey IV
Other Features—Spotlight on Shrek (HD), Secrets of Shrek Forever After (HD), Deleted Scenes (HD), Filmmakers’ Commentary, “Shrek, Rattle & Roll” Music & More
Disc also includes Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular Made-for-TV movie, which itself includes the following special features: Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular (HD), Shrek’s Yule Log (HD) and Many More Holiday Surprises!
In closing, the Shrek franchise will be remembered for showing that animated films don’t always have to let kids in on every joke. A joy for parents and children alike (well, for half the series at least), Shrek launched a franchise and saved a studio at the same time, paving the way for numerous 3D animated DreamWorks films, some great (How to Train Your Dragon), and some not so great (Shark Tale). Nevertheless, the Shrek franchise will go down as one of the most successful in history. If you’re a fan of the films, getting them on Blu-ray is a must—they’ve never looked better. If you’re a fan of all the films, Shrek: The Whole Story is a well-crafted box set that will not disappoint.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, read our coverage of the Shrek: The Whole Story box-set press conference here. We’ve got comments from Jeffery Katzenberg, VFX Supervisor Wendy Rogers, Editorial and Post-Production Executive Jim Beshears and Sound Effects Supervisor Ethan Van der Ryn.
*Information regarding the formation of DreamWorks/Jeffrey Katzenberg is taken from the books DisneyWar by James B. Stewart and The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks by Nicole Laporte. Both are a fantastic read and are highly recommended, for those interested.