20 Years of ‘Shrek 2’: A Tale of Love, Laughter and Ogre Antics

20 Years of ‘Shrek 2’: A Tale of Love, Laughter and Ogre Antics

Dust off your ogre ears and polish your fairy godmother wands because on April 12, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are bringing back the beloved classic, Shrek 2, to celebrate its 20th anniversary. 

The sequel — which some contend is better than the original — arrived in theaters in 2004 just days after competing for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, showing that ogres have serious star power. Not only did Shrek 2 charm critics, but it also made a monstrous splash at the box office, raking in nearly $1 billion worldwide and quickly becoming what was then the highest-grossing animated film of all time. (It was later surpassed by Toy Story 3.) To this day, Shrek 2 remains DreamWorks’ highest-grossing film ever. 

In the movie — voiced by an all-star cast, including Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Julie Andrews and more — Shrek and his new bride, Fiona, embark on a journey to meet her royal parents in the land of Far Far Away. The inimitable Donkey joins the fun. But things take a turn when Shrek clashes with Fiona’s father, the King (voiced by John Cleese), sparking a whirlwind of Shrek’s self-doubt, as well as marital meddling courtesy of the cunning fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders). The twists and turns — including the introductions of Puss ‘n Boots (Antonio Banderas) and Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) — culminate in an epic finale that combines action, irreverence and an iconic rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero.

“The Shrek franchise has become a cultural touchstone and has brought joy to audiences around the world for more than two decades,” Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures said in a press release announcing the film’s re-release. “Its impact on popular culture has been profound, transcending generations, and it continues to resonate with viewers long after its initial release. So, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Shrek 2, we’re excited to bring this iconic film back to the big screen.”

The Island of Misfit Toys

Back in 2001, the world was first introduced to the lovable green ogre and his unconventional fairytale. Fast forward more than two decades, and it’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking the Shrek franchise truly was — and the rocky road it traveled to get there. Shrek “was sort of a bastard child,” co-director Andrew Adamson confessed to Inverse for an oral history of the film. “It was the island of misfit toys to a large degree. Everyone who didn’t work out on another (DreamWorks) project got sent onto Shrek.”

At the time, DreamWorks Animation was headed by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who left Disney in 1994 after the two sides endured a public and acrimonious divorce. Katzenberg helped usher in a renaissance at the Mouse House, which released The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King under his watch in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. But by the end of the century, the renaissance was fading. Now competing with Disney at DreamWorks, Kantzenberg was determined to take the animated mantle — he just never imagined Shrek would be the thing to do it. “The first Shrek came along and I didn’t have a clue — it was one of the riskiest movies I’d ever done,” Katzenberg told The Guardian. “It defied conventional wisdom in every way, the antithesis of everything an animated movie had been. By definition it’s a fractured fairytale, completely adult, a sophisticated story full of irony and satire and parody and things that could go over the heads of kids, though my feeling was, and why I went with it, that kids are so sophisticated these days.”

In her book, The Men Who Would be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies and a Company Called DreamWorks, author Nicole Laporte writes that before its 2001 release, DreamWorks considered Shrek a low-budget boondoggle. Based on a 30-page children’s book by William Steig, the first film was six years in the making, enduring multiple directors, writers, animators and actors. The character of Shrek was originally voiced by actor Chris Farley, but in 1997 — during one of many production delays —Farley suffered an untimely death, casting the entire project once again in doubt. Ultimately, the role fell to fellow Saturday Night Live alum Myers, fresh off his success as Austin Powers.

An Ogre-sized Impact

What emerged from that ragtag band of misfits was a film with heart, but also flatulence jokes. A franchise that embraces the moral of being true to oneself, while also swiping at its fairytale predecessors, leading to legendary scenes like the interrogation of Gingerbread Man — a riot for audiences, as well as subversion that becomes even sharper when considering Kantzenberg’s relationship with his former employer. Shrek is a film that literally begins with the protagonist tearing a page out of a book of fairytales and using it as toilet paper. “We really did make the movie for (adults), and made it accessible for children rather than making a movie for children that was accessible to adults,” Adamson told Inverse. 

Shrek’s success speaks for itself. In 2001, audiences flocked to the pop-culture sendup of princess movies past. The global phenomenon also struck a chord with Academy Award voters, who honored Shrek with the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature — beating out Disney’s Monsters, Inc. The soundtrack — yes, featuring Smash Mouth’s All Star — became a smash hit, with one Slate pop culture critic noting that a generation of children learned about Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as that sad song from the low point in the film. 

Shrek quickly spawned, by Polygon’s count, “four main films, a spinoff in Puss ’n Boots, eight shorts, three television and interactive specials, one spinoff television series, a Broadway musical, and 12 video game appearances (and that’s not even touching on all the merchandising deals).” Those four main films grossed more than $3 billion worldwide, and in 2020, Shrek became the only animated film of the 21st century to be preserved by the US Library of Congress, formally recognized as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the National Film Registry. There are periodic rumors that Shrek 5 might be in the works, though there’s never been official confirmation of it.

TikTok Memes and Big Screen Dreams

With such omnipresence, Shrek ultimately morphed into the sort of franchise the filmmakers set out to lampoon. But therein lies the charm of this chance to re-watch Shrek 2: It’s a flashback to 2004, before sprawling Universal theme park Shrek attractions or TikTok Shrek memes. Shrek 2 holds onto the heart and biting wit of the original, serves up another stellar soundtrack — including Oscar-nominated Accidentally In Love by Counting Crows — and throws a few more jabs at Disney, such as the vignette when a little mermaid is thrown to sharks. It’s even good enough to get people through a pandemic: In 2020, users at the social movie review site Letterboxed ranked it one of the most rewatchable movies of the year.

If you want to experience the film on the big screen, advanced tickets are already on sale — and AMC theaters has even begun offering them at the fan-favorite price of $5 apiece. But if heading to the theater isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy all the ogre antics now, right from the comfort of your own home, courtesy of DIRECTV.