WARNING! The following article contains some spoiler information about several sequences in "Shrek 2." If you'd like to see this new Dreamworks film WITHOUT having any advance knowledge about that movie's gags and/or plot points, NOW might be a really good time to bail out of this article.
About two minutes into "Shrek 2," there's this great little throwaway gag. Where Little Red Riding Hood -- carrying a basket of goodies from her granny -- accidentally knocks on the door of the honeymoon cottage where the two ogres have supposedly spent their wedding night.
Of course, upon hearing the knock, Shrek & Fiona immediately answer the door. Red Riding Hood then sees these two ogres. Her eyes bulging out of her head, Red screams. Then -- after dropping her basket of goodies -- the little girl races away.
Somewhat surprised at what just happened, Shrek now picks up the basket. After peeking inside, the ogre turns to his bride and smiles. For now these two have a delightful array of snacks on which to nosh when Shrek & Fiona head out for a beachfront picnic.
That's a cute little gag, don't you think? But -- me personally -- what I find really intriguing about this particular scene in "Shrek 2" is that this Red Riding Hood gag was actually originally written for the opening sequence of the first "Shrek" film. You know, the one that hit theaters 'way back in May of 2001?
Of course, back then, the folks at Dreamworks were still struggling to find just the right balance of elements for this CG fairy tale. Particularly when it came to the movie's opening. When the audience was just getting to know Shrek.
Anyway ... in the first film, this Red Riding Hood gag was supposed to have shown that this ogre really didn't like people trespassing in his swamp. And -- while this joke always got a big laugh at test screenings -- there was a concern (among the studio's story staff, that is) that a gag like this might not actually be the best way to introduce Shrek to movie-goers.
After all, how is an audience supposed to sympathize with a character who -- just two minutes into the picture -- obviously takes such great pleasure in frightening a cute little girl out of her little red hood?
Which is why the folks at Dreamworks ultimately decided to cut that Little Red Riding Hood gag out of the first "Shrek" 's introductory sequence. And then to replace that gag with a scene which showed the ogre dealing with this large mob of angry humans. Who seemed intent on chasing him out of his swamp.
Mind you, the sequence that I just described wasn't always played for laughs. In one very early version of "Shrek," that scene was actually staged to be as dramatic and scary as possible. With Lord Farquaad's men literally burning the film's title character out of his swampside house. With the hope that -- by putting the movie's ogre/hero character through something this harrowing -- that this one scene would make movie-goers feel much more sympathetically toward Shrek.
As you might expect, the burning-Shrek's-house-down scene turned out to be a huge downer for test audiences. And -- given that "Shrek" was supposed to be this sweet if somewhat satirical take on Disney fairy tale films -- having a super serious scene like that really threw off the mood that the movie-makers were trying to create. Which is why this particular sequence eventually got cut.
I know, I know. This seems like a pretty weird way to go about making a movie. But -- honest and true, folks -- this is how virtually every Disney and/or Dreamworks animated feature eventually got put together. By trial and error. By throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.
As this process traditionally goes, first proposed sequences get storyboarded. Then -- if they seem promising enough -- these scenes are then cut into the film's leica reel and shown to test audiences. If these sequences then fail to win over at the test screenings, out they go. No questions asked.
In the business, this particular brutal form of film-making is known as "killing all your darlings." Letting go of particular ideas or concepts for the film that -- while they may seem appealing to the movie's story team -- just didn't win over the test audiences. Which is why these once promising scenes inevitably hit the cutting room floor. Never to be seen again.
Of course, that's the beauty of getting the chance to make a sequel. The filmmakers then get an opportunity to revisit a concept, one more chance to play with a story idea. To see if perhaps another approach might make an idea that initially failed in the first film get a second chance in the sequel.
Such is the case with "Shrek 2"'s fairy godmother character(Which is voiced by "Ab Fab" vet Jennifer Saunders). The original version of "Shrek" actually had a character that was very much like S2's FG: Dama Fortuna, the gypsy woman that gave Fiona the potion that transformed the Princess from a beauty by day into an ogre by night.
Of course, for that version of "Shrek"'s story, Princess Fiona had actually initially been born an ogre. Which is why her parents had originally locked her away in a remote tower guarded by a ferocious dragon. So that the world wouldn't be able to see how hideous their daughter was.
Mind you, one night, Fiona managed to escape from the high tower and make her way to Dama Fortuna. With the hope that this magical old gypsy woman might be able to help the Princess with her ... uh ... problem.
After hearing Fiona's plea, what does Dama Fortuna do? She then offers the ogress her choice of magical potions. One that will make the Princess beautiful should she drink it, while the other would insure that she always live happily ever after. Fiona -- of course -- opts for the "Beauty" potion. Not realizing that -- with magic -- there is always a catch.
As Dama Fortuna then explains to the Princess: by drinking the "Beauty" potion, Fiona will now become a ravishing beauty as soon as the sun rises every morning. But -- as soon as the sun sets each night -- the Princess will then revert to her original form.
Believe it or not, Fiona's backstory -- I.E. the origin of the Princess's curious condition -- was actually once considered as a possible prologue to the picture. But -- as you might expect -- test audiences found this version of "Shrek" 's opening sequence to be too depressing, too downbeat.
But-- still -- the folks at Dreamworks just loved the idea of folding that fairy tale tradition of magical potions into the "Shrek" sequel. As well as the concept of a Fairy Godmother-like character who eventually turned out to be a bit of a trickster. So -- by mixing these two story ideas together -- that's how the "Shrek 2" story team eventually came up with a hook for Jennifer Saunder's character: A Fairy Godmother who used magical potions in a way that didn't always help Shrek & Fiona.
Speaking of help ... one of the scenes that always gets a big reaction with audiences is when Shrek's fairy tale friends -- Pinocchio, the Three Blind Mice, the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf -- come to the rescue. Busting Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots out of King Harold's dungeon.
Well, the folks at Dreamworks actually originally dreamed this particular sequence up for the first "Shrek" film. You see, in that early version of the movie, Lord Farquaad was supposed to pull a double-cross on the ogre. Instead of giving Shrek the deed to his swamp for safely delivering Princess Fiona to Duloc, the scheming regent was actually supposed to give the big green guy the shaft. Order his knights to put Shrek in shackles, then throw him in the dungeon.
In the confusion, Donkey slips away. Then -- rushing back to Shrek's home in the swamp -- he rounds up a crew of fairy tale characters to help break the ogre out of Lord Farquaad's dungeon.
I'm told that the folks at Dreamworks came up with a number of really funny gags for the first film's jailbreak sequence. Many of which supposedly were incorporated into "Shrek 2." But -- eventually -- folks at the studio began to see that, as funny as these scenes might have been, they were actually slowing down the picture.
You see, by this point in the first "Shrek" film, people didn't really want to see the fairy tale characters again. They only cared about Shrek and Fiona. They just wanted to see these two characters get back together as quickly as possible.
Which was why -- in the end -- the whole "Fairy-Tale-characters-break-Shrek-out-of-jail" sequence hit the cutting room floor. Not because it wasn't funny. Because it was. But -- rather -- it wasn't what the audience really wanted to see at that point in the picture.
Still, the story crew at Dreamworks knew that they had come with some really great stuff here. Which is why they decided to carefully tuck away all of the "Fairy-Tale-Creatures-Rescue-sequence" gags that they had created for the film. With the hope that -- should there someday be a "Shrek" sequel -- they might then be able to work these particular scenes into the picture.
Such is the case with Shrek's disagreeable dinner with his new in-laws. Which -- back in the first "Shrek" film -- was originally supposed to have been this awkward dinner that the ogre had with Lord Farquaad. As the scheming regent tried to recruit Shrek to go and rescue Fiona from her high tower.
Of course, that was back in the day when "Shrek" was supposed to be about this ogre who wanted to be a knight. Which is why I've been kind of amused to hear about the proposed storyline for "Shrek 3."
You see, in that film, Shrek is supposed to come into conflict with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
So could it be that Dreamworks' tradition of recycling old story ideas that were originally proposed for the first "Shrek" film continues? We'll keep you posted.
By the way ... Would you be interested in reading about what Jim Hill actually thought of "Shrek 2"? Then follow this link to check out a review of this Dreamworks film that Jim just wrote for Skwigly Animation Magazine