The Alternative Versions of 'Shrek' That Almost Existed
'Shrek' could have looked and sounded a lot differently if these changes had stuck.
Imagine, if you will, the universe's infinite realities that contain an infinite amount of Shreks. I don't care whether or not you believe in that stuff; just think of all the different iterations of Shrek that exist across the astral planes of the multiverse! Maybe in one timeline, Shrek is called Zhrek; maybe in another, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy swapped roles; in another, maybe I am the voice of Shrek; in a tragic reality, Shrek might not exist at all. The possibilities are literally endless.
What's fun about pondering all of the ways that Shrek could have turned out are based in the very real events that played out behind the scenes, the series of choices and unexpected circumstances that made the movie what it is. For instance, Chris Farley was intended to be the voice of Shrek before his tragic death. What if he had finished recording all of his lines? What if Nicolas Cage had taken his place? What if the movie's iconic needle drops came from, say, the Smashing Pumpkins instead of Smash Mouth? What if Shrek didn't resonate with kids and ended up a box-office bomb? We considered the multitude of implications from five of our favorite alternative outcomes that would have rewritten Shrek history, and therefore our concept of life itself.
What if... Chris Farley had voiced Shrek?
Even if he didn't end up starring in the finished film, Chris Farley is essential to the creation of the larger Shrek universe. According to an interview with Tommy Boy director Peter Segal, Shrek writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, who would go onto shape the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, based the Shrek-Donkey relationship off the push-and-pull dynamic between the unruly Farley and his smart-ass partner played by David Spade in the 1995 road movie. After all, Shrek is also a road movie. So, it makes sense that the studio first cast Farley in the role and recorded around 85% of his lines before his tragic death in 1997. He fits the world and the tone of the movie because it was molded in his image.
Some audio footage of Farley's performance surfaced online in 2015, and while it's obviously quite different than the final version—Farley's Midwestern accent scans as less fanciful than Myers's Scottish growl—there's little reason to believe the Farley-led version of Shrek wouldn't have been a massive hit in an alternate universe where the actor didn't die and instead aged gracefully alongside his '90s SNL co-stars of the "Bad Boy" era. An alt-version of Shrek with Nicolas Cage as the ogre and Janeane Garofalo as a droller Princess Fiona would have probably succeeded too, but the Farley version is the more interesting hypothetical to think about, one that would send odd reverberations throughout the next 20 years of animation and comedy.
Farley was a movie star before it became common for every mildly famous comedian to do a voice in an animated movie or a Netflix series. Though he was famous for his gifts as a physical comedy—falling through tables, bursting through walls, and rolling down hills—he had a sensitive, distinct vocal style, one that would have likely led to even more voice work in Shrek sequels, TV shows, and other animated kids movies. Post-Shrek, it's easy to imagine Farley going on to co-star in movies with his friend Adam Sandler—you know he'd have a part in the Grown Ups movies—and perhaps gaining Oscar attention for roles in long-rumored dramatic projects like David Mamet-penned Fatty Arbuckle biopic or an adaptation of Confederacy of Dunces. Like ogres, time is like an onion: plenty of layers to peel away.—Dan Jackson
What if... Mike Myers had stuck with his original, normal voice take?
You may be shocked to learn (if you haven't heard this Hollywood urban legend before) that Shrek was not always a Scottish ogre. When comedian Mike Myers took over vocal duties after Chris Farley, Myers at first went with a more exaggerated version of his normal Canadian accent. But when Myers saw a rough cut of the movie, he was charmed by everything except his voice acting.
Myers immediately told DreamWorks' CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg that he wanted to re-record his dialogue, and Katzenberg let him do it, costing the studio about $4 million to eventually reanimate about a third of Shrek's facial movements and body language after Myers was done. For his new version, he picked a deep Scottish accent, explaining at the time to Entertainment Weekly that he got the inspiration from his mother, a trained actress, reading him bedtime stories. Later, he added that he picked Scottish specifically because he wanted to play off of John Lithgow's aristocratic tone for Lord Farquaad, positioning Shrek as a down-and-dirty working class foil to the powerful royal.
If he hadn't decided to switch things up at the last minute, Shrek definitely would not have had that instantly recognizable (and endlessly quotable) voice. I can't even imagine a version of Shrek where he just sounds like a scary Canadian guy, though there is evidence of it existing in the Shrek DVD's technical goofs special feature. If Myers' instincts are correct, the character probably also wouldn't have a certain sense of vulnerability to him, which he finally recognized he needed to add when he recorded his lines a second time. Maybe Shrek wouldn't have been as popular without the voice, particularly amongst American kids, to whom a thick Scottish accent is a little more exotic, something that makes you sit up and pay attention.—Emma Stefansky
What if... Smash Mouth had turned down Shrek?
Shrek has the weird reputation that it does for many reasons, one of them being that Smash Mouth's "All Star" is its unofficial theme song. It opens the movie, playing over credits spelled out in maggots and mud and delightfully crude images of Shrek yanking out a wedgie and farting in his swamp. It doesn't matter that "All Star" was a hit upon its pre-Shrek release in 1999; the movie's needle drop propelled Smash Mouth to their ultimate claim to fame, and the two have stayed culturally entwined since.
Given the connection that they've maintained over the years, it's somewhat surprising that the goofy ska-pop song wasn't always meant to be in the movie. The track with all of its bro-y lyrics was used as a placeholder while DreamWorks commissioned composer Matt Mahaffey to record an original song with a similar sound. It wasn't until Jeffrey Katzenberg asked why they didn't just use "All Star" that the studio went to Smash Mouth for permission. Although the band was hesitant to lend their music to a kids movie, they obviously gave in, contributing the cover of The Monkees' "I'm A Believer" as well.
Not only could we have gotten an original song if "All Star" wasn't used, a much different band would have appeared on the soundtrack. Indie pop staples Belle and Sebastian were tapped to contribute something, but they deemed themselves too obscure to appear on a soundtrack. (They ended up doing the soundtrack for the 2002 movie Storytelling). The Smashing Pumpkins were also asked to do the end credits song and said no. (That didn't stop the Smash Mouth dudes from fighting with the alternative rock group's infamously confrontational frontman Billy Corgan about being the No. 1 choice band for the movie on Twitter, though).
It's hard to say what the world would look like if Shrek and Smash Mouth didn't have the relationship that they do. Would there be a catchy, family-friendly Smashing Pumpkins song that became inescapable? Would the Shrek soundtrack have been ultra-twee and Belle & Sebastian a household name? One thing is for certain, though, and that's that Smash Mouth probably wouldn't have retained the pop culture status (and meme-ification) that they did. No matter how much the band tries to claim they would be relevant even if it weren't for Shrek—which they do on Twitter a lot—it's hard to deny what's kept them in conversation is the generation who grew up with the movie and hearing "All Star" in rotation on Radio Disney for years. Only shooting stars break the mold, baby.—Sadie Bell
What if... "Hallelujah" hadn't been used in Shrek?
Shrek directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jensen tried a lot of options for the melancholy sequence where Fiona tries on her wedding dress to Lord Farquad before they landed on John Cale's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." If they hadn't, would the following things have happened: Would Marissa Cooper have died to the sounds of that song on The O.C.? Would Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have banged to it in Zack Snyder's Watchmen? Would it have become a bizarrely regular staple at actual religious services and on tragic telethons? One assumes no.
As The Atlantic reported in a look at the book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah," the song was a relatively obscure Cohen track before the famous Jeff Buckley cover in 1994. Cale's version was used in the 1996 biopic Basquiat, which is where Adamson and Jenson found it on their hunt for a good track to score an ogre's heartbreak. According to The Atlantic, Adamson expected to get pushback on the studio for choosing such an out-of-the-box song. Perhaps the DreamWorks execs knew they'd be trendsetters.
In the years since Shrek, "Hallelujah," once thought of a dirge with strangely sexual lyrics, has become all but inescapable. Now, putting "Hallelujah" in your movie or TV show is just corny. We've just heard it one too many times. But if you can think back to 2001, you may remember that its inclusion in Shrek actually felt inspired, and introduced a generation of kids to the song. It's an incongruous choice that was nonetheless bizarrely moving. But it birthed a monster more annoying than the ogre himself.—Esther Zuckerman
What if... Shrek had flopped?
For one, DreamWorks would have become the Quibi of the early 2000s. (It'd probably have set off a chain reaction where Quibi would have never existed.) Before the box office success of Shrek, which racked up a worldwide $484 million, the studio was on extremely precarious financial footing: It had burned through its nearly $2.7 billion in initial investments, which included $500 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and had no major hits, live action or animation, to show for it. By mid-2000, "Spin City," the ABC sitcom starring Michael J. Fox and produced by the studio's TV arm, "[was] paying our bills now," said a former exec in Nicole LePorte's history of DreamWorks The Men Who Would Be King after it was greenlit for syndication.
It's not a stretch to say that Shrek (and Shrek 2, which made more than double the original movie) saved DreamWorks from total ruin, and gave the studio's animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg a career lifeline after his previous features—Prince of Egypt, Antz, and The Road to El Dorado, all of them lobbed as a big middle finger to Disney, his previous employer where he had been chiefly responsible for the massive success of The Lion King and had been contentiously forced out—flailed at the box office. Say, for whatever reason, that Shrek fell to the same fate. For one, a whole bankable Shrek franchise would not exist. Who knows what DreamWorks, which started with the ambitions of being a multimedia venture producing everything from movies to video games to albums, would look like today. Katzenberg's animation division might have been sold off for cheap to Disney, which would probably have put him in a mental asylum after years of revenge-seeking, or absorbed by Amblin, the production company led by one-third of DreamWorks founding partners, Steven Spielberg. There would almost certainly be no Kung Fu Pandas, Madagascars, or How to Train Your Dragons.
And what about Shrek itself? Would we be talking about it as under-appreciated entertainment in the same breath of Disney's 2D adventure Atlantis: The Lost Empire—or would that movie, which came out barely a month after Shrek, be the animated movie we remember most from summer 2001? It's unlikely that CGI animation would have been dismissed as no more than a trend—Pixar had already released two Toy Story movies and A Bug's Life, with Monsters, Inc. to follow in November 2001—but Shrek might be a footnote in history, a weird, ugly experiment that buried a studio that was, at its inception, the hottest property in Hollywood. If Shrek tanked, would CGI animated movies be more earnest instead of pop culture-reference heavy, both kid- and adult-friendly star vehicles? Would we have been saved from something like the cynical abomination that is The Emoji Movie? Culture as a whole would be reshaped to a Shrek-free or Shrek-lite space; sayonara to your horny Shrek memes, Shrek-themed drinking parties, Lili Reinhart posting on Instagram with a Shrek quote, the "Hallelujah" and Smash Mouth invasion. At best, Shrek would turn into a cult favorite, a movie that Thrillist dot com might wistfully write about 20 years later, but not dedicate a whole package to it.—Leanne Butkovic