Codirector Andrew Adamson tells EW.com about the animated comedy's scathing satire
Message to Walt Disney Co. boss Michael Eisner: Beware of Ogre. After ”Shrek”s record breaking $42.3 million debut last weekend, there’s little doubt among industry watchers that the mock fairy tale from DreamWorks SKG is on track to become the summer’s top grossing animated film. In fact, ”Shrek” could rake in more than $200 million, double what analysts are predicting for Disney’s ”Atlantis” (June 15). If those estimates prove accurate, this will be the first summer since 1994 that the Mouse House doesn’t own the season’s most lucrative ‘toon offering.
What’s more, ”Shrek”’s makers will have topped their rival while appearing to ruthlessly satirizing him. Not only does Lord Farquaad’s oppressed kingdom gleam like the ultra- hygienic Magic Kingdom, but what are we to make of the diminutive tyrant, who, reportedly like Eisner, refers to his subjects as ”cast members”?
EW.com gets the scoop from codirector Andrew Adamson.
”Shrek”’s producer Jeffrey Katzenberg ran the animation division at Disney before he left to help start DreamWorks. Some speculate that ”Shrek”’s humor represents his hostility toward his former bosses.
It’s unavoidable that people are going to bring up the whole rivalry thing. But that was certainly not the basis of what we were doing. The first thing we wanted to do is go for what’s funny.
Both Katzenberg and Lord Farquaad are, uh, short. I read an article that said Katzenberg wanted the villain to be modeled after him — to represent what he was like before he left Disney. Is that true?
Actually, Princess Fiona was based on Jeffrey Katzenberg. No! People are speculating all kinds of things. There’s a little bit of John Lithgow in Lord Farquaad, certainly, and if you look at pictures of them, you’ll see that. But, no, it wasn’t based on Jeffrey; it wasn’t based on Michael [Eisner]. We always wanted Lord Farquaad to be this diminutive persona. He’s always trying to make his world perfect, yet he doesn’t fit his own image of perfection. It’s very common — Napolean, Hitler, both of them were people who were trying to create perfect races, perfect people but they didn’t fit their own image of perfection.
Was Katzenberg involved in constructing the story?
All the way. He’s very collaborative. For a first time director like me, it was like going to college. You’ve got Professor Katzenberg and Professor Steven Spielberg to talk to. We would show Jeffrey stuff all the time. Sometimes we’d screen for Steven, too. In one case he added an extra moment with the dragon character; another time he said, ”What about another ass joke?” The dragon moment was kept, the ass joke wasn’t. We ended up cutting it out because we had too many.
In one scene the heroine Princess Fiona sings along with a cute collection of birds — something we’ve seen many times in Disney movies like ”Cinderella.” But then Fiona sings off key and the birds explode! Wasn’t that directed at the Mouse House?
We were poking fun at people’s expectations. Certainly it is a homage to Disney; it is making fun of those things that we all grew up with and loved. You want to make jokes that people recognize, particularly with parody. That’s why you have to go there.
Whether it’s aimed specifically at Disney or not, ”Shrek” IS a satire. What are the jokes REALLY about?
We set about to deconstruct the idea of fairy tales and reconstruct it with a new fairy tale. There are a lot of rules in fairy tales. Fiona’s whole issue is living up to a stereotype, the idea represented in fairy tales that if you’re a young girl and you look a certain way and act a certain way and put the right dress and slippers on a handsome man is going to come. And he always has to be handsome! It’s not really a very realistic picture of modern day romance. And it’s not really a healthy way to grow up!