When the original Shrek was released to theaters back in 2001, there were hardly any computer-animated films littering the cinematic landscape – as the movie marked only the fifth time that computers had been used to craft a full-length animated endeavor (following 1995’s Toy Story, 1998’s Antz, 1998’s A Bug’s Life, and 1999’s Toy Story 2). More significantly, Shrek marked the first time that a non-Pixar release managed to do serious business at the box office – with the movie’s worldwide tally falling short of Toy Story 2’s record by less than a million dollars.
And after the film’s sequels made almost $2 billion across the globe, Shrek Forever After instantly became a sure thing. Despite the series’ place as a cash cow for DreamWorks Animation, Shrek Forever After is being billed as the grumpy green ogre’s final big-screen adventure – with the series set to continue only in spin-off movies (Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots is the first character to take the leap with Puss in Boots: Story of an Ogre Killer). Wrapping up the most profitable series in animated-film history is certainly no small feat, yet it’s a challenge that the talented folks at DreamWorks Animation felt more than ready to tackle.
As director Mike Mitchell asks in the movie’s production notes, "how do we give the audience what they know and love, but at the same time give it a fresh take, make it more beautiful?" The filmmakers started with Shrek himself, as each entry within this series has advanced the character’s behavior and personality in recognizable ways – with the most obvious example of this Shrek’s journey from isolated curmudgeon to open-hearted family man. It wasn’t long before the creative team settled on the concept of Shrek undergoing a midlife crisis, which essentially allowed them to turn back the clock and discover what Shrek might have done differently in his journey towards becoming the ogre he is today.
This led the filmmakers to the idea of creating a version of Far Far Away in which Shrek never existed, as the character is effectively tricked into erasing his own birth by the series’ newest villain, Rumpelstiltskin. As Mitchell says, "everything the audience knows about Shrek, Fiona and the fairy tale characters is turned upside down and thrown into an alternate reality." The result was a universe in which the filmmakers were able to reinvent the various characters, as, says Mitchell, "nobody in Far Far Away knows who Shrek is. They just see him for what he is; a big, scary ogre."
The next step was to figure out just what Far Far Away would have looked like had it not been influenced by Shrek’s various adventures and exploits. To that end, Mitchell and the creative team set out to eliminate the warm, welcoming atmosphere that viewers have come to associate with Shrek’s universe – as they instead envisioned a dusty, dirty landscape ruled over by Rumpelstiltskin. Amplifying that feeling are the changes among Shrek’s closest friends, with the ogre’s absence reflected in everything from Princess Fiona’s warrior attitude to Puss in Boots’ bloated, pampered appearance.
Of course, the biggest difference between Shrek Forever After and its three predecessors is that it marks the first time that the land of Far Far Away has been rendered in 3D. The creative team’s number one priority was to ensure that the added dimension enhanced the storytelling without distracting the audience; as visual effects supervisor Doug Cooper notes, "3D is an equal partner in everything we do. We don’t look at it as an afterthought."
And given that the core cast – Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas – has been complemented with such newcomers as Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch, and Craig Robinson, Shrek Forever After certainly lives up to its place as an inventive and consistently surprising capper to the justifiably beloved Shrek saga.