MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: $4 million worth of animation had to be recreated on Shrek when Mike Myers decided to redo all of his dialogue with a Scottish accent.
More than most films, Shrek had a strange journey on its way to the franchise earning more than a billion dollars at the box office. Steven Spielberg bought the rights to the 1990 William Steig picture book Shrek! just a year after its release. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Spielberg’s new company DreamWorks began production on the film. Originally, the film’s title character was to be played by a real-life giant of a man, Saturday Night Live star Chris Farley. Sadly, he had not yet completed recording his role when he died of a heart attack in 1997. Farley’s former Saturday Night Live castmate Mike Myers was brought in to replace him. Myers asked for the script to be rewritten to accommodate his different comedic approach. This was done, and Myers recorded pretty much his entire role over the course of 1999 (it was done in bits and pieces, a scene here a scene there). In February 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, who 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 him 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 in an interview with Close-Up Film that he felt Lord Farquaad’s English accent was so upper-class and elitist that a better contrast would be a more “working-class” accent. 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 the thick Canadian accent he used initially 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 Inside 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 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 the scene would have to be redone entirely. However, it would meants that new mouth movements and new gestures would need to be done for all of the scenes. Katzenberg priced the changes at roughly $4 million to $5 million, 10 percent of the film’s total budget, so no drop in the bucket! But Katzenberg respected how much thought Myers had put into the change, and he 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 said the change was as if they once had junk before 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 that Myers ”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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