Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Four million dollars worth of animation had to be redone on Shrek when Mike Myers decided to redo all of his dialogue on the film with a Scottish accent.
More than most films, Shrek had a strange journey on its way to earning over a billion dollars at the box office for the four Shrek films (Shrek, Shrek II, Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After, plus a bunch of spin-offs and TV movies).
Stephen Spielberg originally bought the rights to the 1990 William Steig picture book Shrek! just a year after the book was released. However, it would not be until 1997 that Spielberg’s new company, Dreamworks, would begin production on the film. Originally, the film’s titular giant was to be played by a real life giant of a man, Saturday Night Live star Chris Farley. Sadly, Farley had not yet completed recording his role in the film when he died of a heart attack in 1997. Farley’s former Saturday Night Live castmate Mike Myers was brought in to replace Farley. Myers asked for the script to be rewritten to accommodate his different comedic approach (he and Farley obviously had a much different style). This was done and Myers recorded pretty much his entire role over the course of 1999 (he would record the film in bits and pieces, a scene here a scene there, etc.). In February of 2000, a rough cut of the movie (not yet animated – basically just rough layouts with a little rough animation here and there) was shown to Myers. Myers liked what he saw, except for one “minor” problem…he wanted to re-record all of his dialogue!
Read on to learn his reasoning and to see what Dreamworks had to do to accommodate this request!
Originally, Myers used just a slightly more over-the-top version of his own Canadian accent for the ogre’s voice. However, after watching the rough cut, it struck Myers that there was a specific way that he could play off of the accent of the villain of the movie, the diminutive and evil Lord Farquaad.
He explained an interview with Close-Up Film that he felt that Lord Farquaad’s English accent was so upper class and elitist that a better contrast with it would be a more “working class” accent. Myers, to this point, had already used a Scottish accent in a number of his works, including his film So I Married An Ax Murderer, and he felt that this accent contrasted better with the villain of the film. As he noted to USA Today, “since Lord Farquaad (the villain) was played English, I thought of Scottish.”
The specific accent Myers uses he got from his mother, who was an actress herself in her younger days and would use different accents when she would read Myers stories as a child. Beyond the working class issues, Myers also felt that the thick Canadian accent he used initially also robbed the character of a bit of relatability, feeling that he sounded scary when he wanted to sound vulnerable (also, as Myers told James Lipton on the Actor’s Studio, the Scottish accent was great for dramatically going from happy to angry, which naturally comes in handy in a cartoon).
The problem with Myers’ request was that they had already begun animating the film. Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks Animation later recalled, “I don’t think Mike understood what was going on in my mind. Which was that literally one third of [the scenes with] his character had already been animated.” Obviously, merely using a different accent wouldn’t mean that the scene would have to be redone ENTIRELY, however it would mean that new mouth movements and new gestures would need to be done for all of the scenes. Katzenberg priced the changes at costing roughly $4-5 million dollars, 10% of the film’s total budget, so no drop in the bucket! However, he respected how much thought Myers had put into the change and Katzenberg was insistent on the end product being as good as it could be, so he agreed (he later described it as “choking out a yes”).
By the time the new dialogue was recorded, though, Katzenberg had completely come around and now said that the change was as if they once had junk and now they had gold.
Praise for the insight Myers had into the character went well past the studio chief, as the co-director of Shrek, Vicky Jenson, also noted of Myers that “[h]e made Shrek breathe. The unique thing about Mike is that he is an analytical and intelligent comedian. That kind of deep thinking kept Shrek from simply being an oaf who wished people liked him.”
Obviously filmgoers enjoyed it, as the first Shrek was a major hit (as was the second and the third and the fourth).
The legend is…
Thanks to Steve Daly’s article on the making of Shrek in Entertainment Weekly for a number of choice quotes.
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