In the film 'Shrek,' the green ogre Shrek stands in a field of sunflowers and talks to his friend Donkey.

The Lost Version of ‘Shrek’

What started out as a punishment project for bad animators quickly turned into one of the most beloved fairytales of the 21st century.
February 23, 2023
8 mins read

“Shrek” doesn’t need an introduction: the film and its titular character have an enormous presence in pop culture. Chock full of hilarious, quotable moments, “Shrek” is a film that stands out from other animated comedies. However, devotees to the “Shrek” franchise may be surprised to discover the complicated history behind the beloved DreamWorks film.

The story all starts with William Steig, who in 1990 published “Shrek!” a fantasy picture book about a repulsive ogre who leaves his swamp to explore the world. DreamWorks producer John K. Williams obtained the book from his children and presented it to Jeffery Katzenberg, the co-creator of DreamWorks Animation Studios. Katzenberg envisioned the studio adapting the book into a feature-length film, and in Katzenberg’s favor, the studio bought the rights and approved the adaptation.

Active production for “Shrek” began in 1995. Disputes about the film’s direction, specifically pertaining to how “adult” the film should be, caused tension between Katzenberg and director Andrew Adamson. Kelly Asbury signed on to co-direct with Adamson but was later replaced by story artist Vicky Jensen. Adamson and Jensen split up assignments for the film in an attempt to make production easier for the crew.

Despite these and other efforts made by the company, the film became burdensome for DreamWorks to make. Consequently, animators who were not fulfilling expectations on projects like “The Prince of Egypt” were sent to work on “Shrek.” The unfortunate reassignment became known as being “Shreked” by the company. Casting was also an arduous process; Nicholas Cage was initially offered the role of the titular character but turned it down for fear of being presented as an ogre to audiences. Eventually, Chris Farley was selected to voice Shrek.

The original storyline was completely different from the one the world came to know and love. The film was initially about a teenage ogre who dreamed of becoming a knight instead of working for his family’s business. This plotline, along with the animation, was molded to Farley’s style of comedy. Farley recorded 80%-90% of his lines before he died by drug overdose in late 1997. The studio contemplated hiring a voice impersonator to finish the remaining dialogue, but ultimately decided against it, presumably out of respect for Farley.

The shocking news of Farley’s untimely demise led DreamWorks to rework the script for Mike Myers, who had previously worked with Farley on Saturday Night Live. Myers completed the voice-over work in 1999. However, when he was shown a rough cut of the film in early 2000, he asked to re-record the dialogue with a Scottish accent to enhance the film’s comedic style. Myers recalled that Lord Farquaad’s English accent evoked a sense of elitism; a “working-class” accent, such as a Scottish accent, would create a better contrast between the characters.

Despite its inauspicious origins, “Shrek” became a massive success for DreamWorks. The film created a noteworthy franchise for the company, and it inspired three sequels, two Puss in Boots spin-off films and a universe of meme-worthy content. The film brilliantly parodies the stereotypical model of Disney animated fairy tales, and it cleverly mocks popular trends of the late 1990s. Its childlike ridiculousness and mature subtleties make it a film all ages can enjoy. Simply put, “Shrek” is the love and life of DreamWorks animation.

If you are wondering about the previous rendition of “Shrek,” you are not alone. The search for this material is a widely discussed topic in the lost media community. Since “Shrek” is considered the pinnacle of Internet culture, its lost content has become a niche product people would pay thousands of dollars to acquire. Any type of “Shrek” media not publicly accessible is coveted by die-hard fans.

According to the Lost Media Wiki (LMW), very little of Chris Farley’s “Shrek” has been leaked to the public. At the start of this search, a few still images and illustrations were found capturing Farley’s look as an ogre. In 2017, a YouTube user uploaded a storyboard animatic presenting the animation test for the film. The voices were muted from the storyboard, so the user dubbed the missing lines. Given the importance of the storyboard, the material is likely in the DreamWorks’ archives or in the hands of a collector.

Nothing new was uncovered until June 2022, when an LMV user found a sped-up version of the animation test. The user found the test through a demo reel, which was obtained from an animator who worked on the project. Once the test was edited to a slower speed, 31 total frames became visible to the public, albeit with no audio and partial covering. A couple of other users have found similar stills, but their finds haven’t been as significant.

In terms of audio, the only found footage is a deleted scene of Shrek and Donkey having a nighttime conversation where Shrek reflects on his personal life. DreamWorks Development producer John Garbett released the clip on Vimeo in 2015. Currently, no other audio has been found of Farley’s voice, or of Princess Fiona’s original voice, which was played by Janeane Garofalo.

There is obviously a desire to discover more from the original production of “Shrek.” Will more animation and voicework be found? It’s possible. Does DreamWorks even have access to more material? There is a solid chance; only time and effort will reveal whether there’s more to be discovered or leaked. That is our only hope of seeing what could have been.

Nevertheless, this was a project that had multiple difficulties throughout its production. Though it began as a simple idea, “Shrek” constantly changed in all forms of creative expression, until the end product became so much better than anticipated. The film is beloved, cherished and worshipped across generations, and it will continue to live on through meme-worthy content and quotable moments.


Paul Hoskin, Weber State University

Writer Profile

Paul Hoskin

Weber State University
Interpersonal and Family Communication

I strive to find passion and love for anything and everything I can find. I know a lot about a few things, and a little about a lot of things.

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