Shrek is easily one of the most successful family movie franchises of the past 25 years. The first film, released in 2001, grossed nearly half a billion dollars, and spawned three sequels, two holiday specials, a Puss In Boots spinoff movie and Netflix series, video games, comic books, a stage musical, and more. It’s a juggernaut, but it could have had a very different life if the original star had lived to finish it.
We’re all familiar with Mike Myers’ Scottish-accented take on the beloved green ogre, but what you might not know about this film series children all over the world are addicted is that Myers was not the first choice for the film. Way back in the late ‘90s, another actor and comedian was recording his Shrek dialogue: Chris Farley.
In 1996, when he took the role, Farley was already a movie star thanks to the success of Tommy Boy, but a role in a family film with universal appeal could have put him into the stratosphere. According to Farley’s brother Kevin, the comedian had recorded almost all of his dialogue for the film when he died of a drug overdose in December of 1997, but the studio opted to replace him with another voice actor rather than try and make a film out of what they already had.
“I understand why [they replaced him],” Kevin Farley said. “They probably wanted to make Shrek 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so…”
A video making the rounds on YouTube right now, featuring early character animatics, gives us a brief glimpse into Farley’s performance alongside Eddie Murphy. He didn’t attempt to put on an accent or be more cartoonish for the sake of animation. It’s a very raw, vulnerable version of Shrek.
“Originally the Shrek character was a little bit more like Chris, like a humble, bumbling innocent guy,” Kevin Farley said.
When the decision was made to recast the character, Myers stepped forward, but apparently requested a rewrite of the script so it would seem less like he was just filling in for his old Saturday Night Live friend.
In the end, Shrek with Myers in the lead was a massive hit, and according to Kevin Farley, there are no hard feelings about his brother’s replacement.
“The studio needed to do what they needed to do. It was a bad time, bad timing… a tragedy. Mike did a great job with Shrek. He knocked it out of the park.”