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Tube Tuesday: Gary Trousdale tries to "Shrek the Halls" without first wrecking DreamWorks Animation's most important franchise

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Tube Tuesday: Gary Trousdale tries to "Shrek the Halls" without first wrecking DreamWorks Animation's most important franchise

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Tomorrow night on ABC ... It's "Shrek's First Christmas" ! Everyone's favorite ogre makes his small screen debut in this brand-new holiday special. Which details what happens when Shrek accidentally winds up on Santa's naughty list. With the hope that they can somehow get jolly old St. Nick to change his mind about their not-so-jolly friend, Donkey & Puss in Boots journey to the North Pole and sneak into Santa's workshop. Which they then accidentally destroy.

"So who's now going to come to the rescue and wind up saving the holidays ?," you ask. Why, Shrek and all his fairytale friends, of course.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation & ABC Television. All Rights Reserved

Doesn't that sound like a perfectly awful idea for a new holiday special? Gary Trousdale certainly thought so.

"The first version of the script for this project was a little lame," Trousdale admitted. "But because virtually every other Christmas special out there is sentimental and loaded with holiday magic ... Well, that's the sort of show that the writers initially tried to put together for Shrek. And it just didn't work at all."

Which is when Gary rode to the rescue. Mind you, this isn't the first time that this WDAS vet has climbed on board a very troubled project. Working with his longtime creative partner Kirk Wise, Trousdale first pulled Epcot's "Cranium Command" back from the brink in the mid-1980s. And then -- because this Future World film was so well received -- Gary & Kirk were recruited to rescue a Richard Purdum project. Maybe you've heard of this film? It was that "Best Picture" nominee that was built around " ... a tale as old as time, true as it can be" ?

That's right. "Beauty and the Beast."

However, this time around, Gary was not working with a beauty. But -- rather -- a seven foot tall green beast who really didn't have a sentimental bone in his entire computer-generated body. So how do you build a Christmas special around a character like that?

"People forget that the two very best holiday specials -- 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' -- weren't really all that sentimental. But what those shows were was incredibly faithful to those characters and their stories," Trousdale explained. "So -- by using those two specials as our template -- we were eventually to come up with a holiday story that still fit with the style & tone of the pre-existing Shrek pictures."

Mind you, "Shrek the Halls" was not without its challenges. First and foremost was this holiday special's time constraint. In that Gary and his DreamWorks Animation production team had to figure out how to tell a self-contained Christmas story in just 21 minutes and 30 seconds.

"That was pretty tough to deal with," Trousdale said. "We eventually got to the point where -- in order to add anything new to this TV special -- we first had to cut out something that was already in the show. So only the very best gags, the strongest character bits eventually survived to make it into the final version of 'Shrek the Halls.' "

"Shrek the Halls" director Gary Trousdale in his office at the DreamWorks campus.
Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

Then there was the recording of the voices for this holiday special. Which basically had to piggy-back on all the recording sessions that were being done for "Shrek the Third" last year.

"That was kind of tough too. We'd typically have to run in at the end of the sessions that Mike (Myers) or Eddie (Murphy) were doing for that movie and then have them record lines for 'Shrek the Halls,' " Gary continued. "I have to admit that the guys and Cameron (Diaz) were great about this. Even when they were under the gun working on 'Shrek the Third,' they'd still find the time to give us what we needed to make 'Shrek the Halls' work."

So given that the "Shrek" movies are so well-known for all of their Disney in-jokes as well as those parodies of recent motion pictures, what sort of hidden gags should we expect to see in "Shrek the Halls" ? According to Trousdale, viewers won't find all that many jokes like this in tomorrow night's special.

"You have to understand that one of our main goals with 'Shrek the Halls' is that we wanted to create something that would basically be timeless," Gary explained. "Which is why we deliberately steered clear of film parodies this time around. We didn't want to add anything to this holiday special that might make it seem dated a few years down the line. We're genuinely hoping that 'Shrek the Halls' can become a holiday perennial. Something that can air on ABC for at least the next 15 years."

Of course, this isn't to say that Trousdale and his 'Shrek the Halls' production team didn't slide a few in-jokes into this holiday special. Take -- for example -- Gingy's take on "The Night Before Christmas." When you're a gingerbread man, the holiday season is not "... the most wonderful time of the year." In fact, Christmas can be a downright harrowing time of year for a cookie. Particularly if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time (i.e. On the Cookie plate just as Santa Claus comes down the chimney and starts looking for a midnight snack).

"That scene is fun. But it would have been a whole lot better if we'd just been able to secure the rights to use Godzilla's roar," Gary laughed. "I mean, from a gingerbread man's point of view, Santa Claus really is this giant cookie-eating monster. So the authentic Godzilla roar would have really nailed home that gag. But as is, that scene is still pretty fun. As Gingy stares up at Santa in horror, you hear a roar coming from Claus that sort of sounds like Godzilla. So that gag is almost as good as it could have been. Almost."

Mind you, the folks at ABC must have been pretty pleased with the finished product. Otherwise, why would they be pairing "Shrek the Halls" with one of the holiday perennials that actually inspired this Christmas special, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" ?

 Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation and ABC Television. All Rights Reserved

"I have to admit that I was pretty excited when I first heard that ABC was putting those holiday specials together," Trousdale admitted. "But then I thought: What if the guys at the network are only grouping these two together because both Shrek & the Grinch are green? You know, as sort of a color coordinated character thing ?"

But Gary needn't worry. The word coming out of DreamWorks Animation & ABC is that they're both thrilled with the way "Shrek the Halls" turned out. I'm told that they can't wait to see how this new holiday special does in the ratings.

"I guess I must have done something right," Gary concluded. "Given that -- just last week -- DreamWorks management called me and asked if I'd like to help out with the story development on 'Shrek Goes Fourth.' So -- if they're now recruiting me to come work on the next feature film in this series -- I guess I didn't really wreck DreamWorks' most important franchise. Which is a relief."

"Shrek the Halls" airs on ABC tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. EST. This brand-new half-hour-long holiday special will be then followed by an airing of that seasonal perennial, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Which starts at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Speaking of the holidays ... Tis the season, folks. And if you'd like to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you regularly read here on this website, then why not start out your next Amazon shopping spree by clicking on the banner above? That way, JHM gets a tiny chunk of what you spend.

Happy Holidays!

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  • Disney Co tries to make Dreamwork's Shrek into a timeless classic on ABC, while The Incredibles played for two nights on NBC this weekend - ah, synergy.

    Why not let NBC air Shrek and promote their Shrek ride at Universal Studios, so ABC can show a Disney-related show? Maybe "High School Musical Christmas Vacation", or "The Making of Enchanted" hosted by Patrick Dempsey, or "Meet the Robinsons Future Holidays", even "Stitch ate Santa's cookies and half the gifts." Let's make timeless classics out of Disney properties at least.

  • They put the competition on the air, but not Mickey Mouse?  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot for some short term profit.

    Dust off "Mickey's Christmas Carol", package it with other Christmas related classic short subjects, and maybe even produce a new short of some kind.  They would have an entire Disney one to two hour holiday special... and at practically no cost!

    It's so simple, even an MBA corporate suit can figure it out... or maybe not?

  • Okay, room full of kids who aren't Disney Dweebs:

    Show of hands - do you want to see Mickey's Christmas Carol, which is perfectly paced for Disney Dweebs but a bit slow for 00s kids, or Shrek?

    (I'd pick MCC, but I'm a huge Dweeb).

    My daughter would apologize profusely to the head Disney Dweeb of the domicile (me) and then gleefully turn on Shrek.

    I am so glad to see Gary Trousdale.  But when I see his name, I can only hear General Knowledge shouting it.  Is that wrong?


  • The only thing that concerns me about this is that I've seen no decent preview for it. I've seen 30-second spots that really don't tell me what it's about (besides the fact that it's Shrek meets Christmas). If I could just see a 30-second long clip of this thing uncut (because, you know, it should have an actual story to it), I'd be a little more eager to see this.

  • "Which is why we deliberately steered clear of film parodies this time around...."

    Isn't this the entire point of the Shrek franchise (and it has grown rather tiresome)? Is Gary actually coming up with original ideas for Shrek?

  • Kudos to two old pals I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. Gary Trousdale and storyman, Bill Riling.

    Nice work, guys!

  • Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. Like why the Imagineers never got to build a “Pocahontas” –themed Friendly Indian Village along the Rivers of America and why WDFA just shelved "The Snow Queen." Again.

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