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“The Art of Shrek Forever After” illuminates DreamWork’s struggle to come up with a fitting final chapter for this popular film franchise

“The Art of Shrek Forever After” illuminates DreamWork’s struggle to come up with a fitting final chapter for this popular film franchise

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Did you see where the purchase price of DreamWorks Animation shares dropped 6% yesterday because some investment analyst said that “Shrek Forever After” was projected to only make $315 million during its initial domestic run?

Care to guess how many movies released last year sold more than $300 million worth of tickets domestically? Out of the 521 motion pictures that Box Office Mojo kept tabs on in calendar 2009, only three crossed that particular box office threshold: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” ($301 million), “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” ($402 million) and “Avatar” ($748 million).

Scene from James Cameron's Avatar
Copyright 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved

I bring this matter up because … Well, there’s an interesting story to be told about the fourth “Shrek” film. One that (I might add) has absolutely nothing to do with what the projected box office of this new DreamWorks Animation release might be.

You see, by the time a studio typically gets around to producing the fourth installment of a series, the creative well has run dry. So the decision to go forward with production usually isn’t story driven. It’s because there’s still profit to be had.

Shrek looks at himself in the mirror
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

But Mike Mitchell and his “Shrek Forever After” story team … they were different. Given that this DWA production was supposed to be the really-for-real final chapter of the Shrek saga, they wanted to end this series with a bang. Send things out on a high note.

More to the point, Mike & his team wanted to remind moviegoers why the original “Shrek” had been so popular. That this 2000 DreamWorks Animation release hadn’t won the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature because it dared to riff on Disney’s theme parks and/or classic animated films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” & “Pinocchio.” But because “Shrek” had a great story with some really clever writing. Not to mention characters that you actually grew to care about over the course of the movie.

Cover from the Art of Shrek Forever After book
Copyright 2010 Insight Editions / DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

Which is why – in order to make their movie as much like the original “Shrek” as possible – they actually made the inciting incident of their story something that happened off-screen during the first film. As Jerry Schmitz recounts in “The Art of Shrek Forever After” (Insight Editions, May 2010), we …

WARNING !! THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD !! PROCEED WITH CAUTION !!

The lKing's carriage arrives at Crone's Nest
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

… flash back to the first Shrek film, where Princess Fiona’s curse has yet to be lifted, and her parents are still at a loss as to what to do about their daughter’s tragic fate. On a recommendation from King Midas, (King Harold and Queen Lilian) cross class borders and venture into Far Far Away’s underworld to consult with Rumplestiltskin. Rumpel confirms that he can free Fiona from his course. In exchange, King Harold must give the Kingdom of Far Far Away to Rumpel. But just as Harold is about to sign away his kingdom, a royal messenger bursts through the door with the news that the princess has been saved! Rumplestiltskin’s plan to gain control of the kingdom is thwarted and Rumpel vows to get revenge on the ogre who spoiled his plans: Shrek.

So with that as our back story, Mitchell & his story team now drop moviegoers straight into the world of “Shrek Forever After.”

Shrek's front yard
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

Now happily married with three kids, Shrek’s life has now become mundane and very routine (at least in his eyes). Feeling somewhat nostalgic for his ogre bachelor days, Shrek makes a deal with the proverbial devil. Who in this particular case is none other than the classic fairytale schemer Rumplestiltskin.

The newest villain to the world of Shrek, Rumplestiltskin is after one thing: the Kingdom of Far Far Away. Capitalizing on Shrek’s longing for the old days, Rumpel makes Shrek an offer he can’t refuse: to live a day free of responsibility, as a real ogre. In exchange, all Shrek has to do is give Rumpel one day from his past.

Rumplestilskin's carriage
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

But what Shrek doesn’t realize is that this deal with the devil will literally turn Far Far Away inside out. Putting Rumplestiltskin on the throne.

Rumplestilskin's Castle
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

And – what’s worse – turning Fiona into a full-on warrior princess who has never known true love. Or – for that matter – doesn’t have a clue who her husband is.

Concept art of Fiona and other ogres as Shrek, donkey and Puss In Boots look on
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

So how does Shrek set everything right? Sorry, but that would be telling. What I will say is that Schmitz does a skillful job of explaining Mike Mitchell’s creative process. Illuminating the various avenues that he and his “Shrek Forever After” story team explored (Like – for instance – a version of this film that was to have featured a teenaged version of Shrek) before they finally settled on a definitive story for the fourth & final film in this DWA series.

Drawing of a teenage Shrek
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation L.L.C. All Rights Reserved

Which is what makes “The Art of DreamWorks Shrek Forever After” such an interesting read.

Of course, if you’d like to learn more about the director of this new DreamWorks Animation release, come by JHM next week. When I’ll talk about the chat I recently had with Mike Mitchell. Where he'll talk about his team's efforts to make “Shrek Forever After” a fitting finale for this popular film franchise.

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