What should Universal Studios do now with Shrek?

November 6, 2018, 2:44 PM · Is DreamWorks ready to bring back Shrek?

Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri is said to have been assigned by Universal to find a new story for the Shrek franchise, which has grossed more than $3.5 billion worldwide and remains DreamWorks Animation's biggest hit. But the franchise hasn't dropped a new film since 2011's Puss in Boots and peaked in revenue with the release of Shrek 2 in 2004.

"There's a tremendous amount of fun to be had in that world, but it’s a high bar to find a story," Meledandri told Variety, which broke the story about the franchise's potential revival. "You want to find something in the narrative that really feels like a departure."

Despite the franchise's popularity, Shrek has had a very limited presence in American theme parks, appearing only in meet and greets and the Shrek 4D show that Universal Studios Hollywood already replaced and that might be on its last legs in Florida. Shrek has gotten more respect overseas, with an entire land devoted to the franchise in Universal Studios Singapore's Far, Far Away and a substantial presence for it in the DreamWorks Animation pavilion at Motiongate Dubai.

Could a revival of the Shrek franchise provide Universal with a compelling reason to give the ogre his own land in Universal Orlando's planned third theme park? While I agree with Meledandri that there's a lot of fun in Shrek's universe, I hope no one involved forgets that the reason Shrek blew up in the first place was because it took dead aim at another world — Disney's.

The original Shrek annihilated Disney's Beauty and the Beast, while mocking a long list of Disney theme park attractions, movies, and personalities. Hollywood viewed the film as producer Jeffrey Katzenberg's revenge against Disney for CEO Michael Eisner sacking him in 1994. But the movie worked because it wasn't just a personal vendetta. It identified tropes and conventions in animation that had earned derision and then delivered that, to the delight of audiences.

Gingy, passed out on the job at Universal Studios Singapore

As DreamWorks cranked out more and more Shrek films, their aim wandered and shots started to miss their marks, if there even were any in the first place. Today, The Lego Movie franchise has taken Shrek's place in deconstructing and mocking Hollywood conventions. Shrek needs too get that mojo back if the next film in this series is to be anything other than yet another Hollywood cash grab.

But a return to well-focused satire for the Shrek franchise offers some intriguing possibilities for a Shrek-themed land. Heaven knows that there's much to be make fun of about the Disney theme park experience. Heck, just start by recycling one of those old Comedy Warehouse scripts from Disney World's Pleasure Island in the 1990s, before upper management shut that down. Universal took a shot at this with its Krustyland queue for The Simpsons Ride, but Shrek could — and should — take aim from another angle. "The Fairy Godmother's Upcharge Dessert Party," anyone?

Give me a fourth Universal Orlando gate with lands devoted to Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek, and I will be a happy theme park fan. But I will be ecstatic if Universal and DreamWorks can find a way to make Shrek — and his theme park land — as brutally funny as he was when he first set off for Duloc.

Replies (19)

November 6, 2018 at 2:58 PM

They could easily make a land out of it here in the states even without a new reboot. Let's not forget that the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride is extremely popular and was based on a movie that was over 70 years old when it debuted. Shrek, at least the first 2, could easily be designated as modern classics, and I have a soft spot in my heart for them. 3 and 4 missed the mark, but that's because they drifted from their roots. I hope they come up with something fun and that they retain the same cast. Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers are sorely missed (at least for me)!

November 6, 2018 at 3:01 PM

It appears that the voice cast returning is a prerequisite for a new film. So that's encouraging.

November 6, 2018 at 3:15 PM

I completely agree with you. The first Shrek movie worked because of the cinematic context from which it was born... and they got progressively less funny and felt progressively less fresh as the franchise proceeded. My wife loves them, but I honestly had a sigh of relief when Dreamworks announced they were retiring the franchise.

November 6, 2018 at 4:12 PM

I assumed Far Far Away would be included in the new park. They still sell a lot of Shrek merchandise and would have lots of food, beverage and seasonal overlay opportunities.

I’m not sure they’ll have time for a ride based on the revival but there was a Broadway show that could be condensed. Also was thinking about a flat ride to recreate the pop song moments from the series. My favorite is from Puss in Boots when the cats are chasing the disco ball lights set to Lady Gaga.

November 6, 2018 at 8:04 PM

I could see a Shrek attraction included as part of a general DreamWorks land, but I think the time for a full Far Far Away land has probably passed. As good as the first couple movies were, later installments marred the reputation of the franchise and given the timespan it's possible the concept wouldn't resonate as well with the current generation. On the theme park front, I'd much rather see Universal commit to How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda and create an extremely immersive land out of those properties than try to revive something that's still relevant but past its prime.

November 6, 2018 at 8:12 PM

New movie based on Shrek's kids could actually make fun of both Disney's sequels and maybe their own as well. I eould think the kids could get in some mischief in a good story. They could play with next generation characters from different stories.

November 6, 2018 at 8:28 PM

Love Shrek movies,,, just need to move on,,, why does everything have to be rebooted,,,, bout ready for a new spiderman next year or so,,,,all the money in hollywood ,,, nothing fresh coming from them ,,, just recycled crap

November 6, 2018 at 9:08 PM

How about minions Land

November 6, 2018 at 9:47 PM

They should replace shrek at Universal Studios Florida with Ghostbusters live action show

November 6, 2018 at 9:56 PM

Nobody cares about Shrek anymore. Sure the studio executives might try to revive it because they think it's easy money, but i'd rate the chances of a Shrek land being built in Orlando or Hollywood as extremely remote.

November 6, 2018 at 11:47 PM

I care about Shrek. I’d be in favor of a Shrek land.

November 7, 2018 at 6:12 AM

I could imagine Universal's fourth gate with a big Shrek castle / land in the middle : Shrek is popular and a big scenic castle would serve as a "weenie". North side of the park you'd have How to train your dragon and Trolls, East would be Kung Fu Panda, South for Madagascar and West for the Minions or the Secret life of pets (or a new franchise).
That way you get a family park to compete with the mouse.
But maybe my imagination's just running wild ; )

November 7, 2018 at 8:07 AM

As long as they incorporate the meet and greet because that one is hilarious.
I am all for a Shrek land with a dark ride with a unique story.

November 7, 2018 at 9:28 AM

I don't think a full-blown Shrek land would work in the US. The success that Shrek had was primarily due to the irreverence shown towards Disney. Universal has always made subtle digs at their competitor up the street (most notably during the now defunct Bill and Ted show), but a full-sized land would need to take that to an extreme, and might even end up being a hypocritical joke of itself. The popularity of the IP has been due to its cross-generational appeal, and trying to turn it into a kiddie-land probably wouldn't work either.

As a long-time fan of Shrek, I always felt that the IP was underrepresented, and the movies (particularly Shrek 2) provided some of the best material for a theme park. However, I think Universal has matured beyond that, and trying to stoop to taking jabs at the company they're trying to get on level with now would be beneath them. I think Shrek could work as part of a greater Dreamworks IP land, but having the green Ogre anchor an entire land probably won't work in the US.

November 7, 2018 at 11:06 AM

I hear a lot of people saying that the boat has sailed or the time has passed for a Shrek attraction or land, but that's exactly what everyone said (including myself) about Pandora. I saw Avatar once and though it was a great 3D movie, I don't really care to ever see it again. Pandora in AK, however, is incredible and can't be missed. If done well, the IP may be old and perhaps even irrelevant, but the experience can still be unforgettable. Look at Universal's Waterworld attraction! That dinosaur of a show was based on a stinker of a movie, and yet everyone still loved the show.

November 7, 2018 at 12:00 PM

I understand what you're saying Shaun, but even the character designs in the Shrek films are grotesque compared to Dreamworks more recent films... I just don't think there's going to be appeal there. If they're going to invest in Shrek, I'd say a simple bus bar style ride would be sufficient. I'd much rather visit the worlds of (and see Universal invest in) Kung Fu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon.

November 7, 2018 at 2:29 PM

Animated comedies like Shrek are entertaining and highly profitable, but imo are much inferior replacement for the classical animated masterpieces that Disney and others used to put out. It seems that the big American studios are more interested in endless sequels for profit rather than any passion for the art of animation. It seems the baton has been passed to Japanese animation studios like Ghibili (which I would love to see come to theme parks) but imo Makoto Shinkai has taken the art to another level and is currently producing the best animated feature films by a long shot.

November 7, 2018 at 10:30 PM

The real reason Universal never expanded the IP in Orlando boils down to one fact: rights. Universal did not own DreamWorks until a few years ago. That means anything new in the brand for the attractions has to be licensed specifically for park use. That means the attraction will stay in limbo for a long time before being updated. That is precisely why it has remained dedicated to the first movie all this time. It is not just that the first movie is good. It is legally more expensive to keep up with the movies.

This is actually common with many of the IPs at the parka. They are actually properties of other companies working under a license for Universal Parks. And they have historically not been updates though newer movies have come out. Harry Potter is the notable exception. And it is probably another nail in this coffin - the studio spends a LOT of money to keep that stuff new and fresh that there isn't any money left for the rest of the attractions.

We take a lot of Disney for granted. They own nearly all of the IPs represented in their parks. It is no problem giving a little update to a new film here and there. For example, new Pirates movies come out. Pirates the ride doesn't change, but you might have a new face displayed on the mist before you take the plunge. Last time I was there, Captain Salazar was the face. That's a subtle but easily made update to help the ride market the movie and tell audiences that the park is also aware of things outside it. Even if the movie sucks, it is nice to see some kind of acknowledgement. That does not often happen in Universal.

Now that Universal owns DreamWorks, updates and characters are easier attainable, as is new material, hence the film. I think many parkgoers would love to see an update to that ride. At this point, it is kinda top little too late. But if it came, and came with a plan to keep it fresh with alternating shows or updates here and there, it could keep a line of visitors coming and the theme park community talking.

If Universal wants to compete with Disney, this is how you do it. You need more than just a bunch of attractions based on IPs. You need those attractions to live and evolve in real life. Yes a refresh for Shrek 4D is needed. It's looked old for a long time now.

November 11, 2018 at 9:29 PM

USF desperately needs to get rid of the Shrek movie. Not that it's bad, but film-focused attractions just do not last. It's not doing anything to prolong the characters or franchise. Plus, the Minion movie needs a second theater, though I'm not sure how that would work with these across-the-street theaters. (That said, if the new park doesn't have a Super Silly Fun Land which jettisons THIS particular film-focused attraction, then they need new people in Universal Creative!)

In my opinion, the best use of Shrek right now would be as a replacement for Toon Lagoon. That land needs some help as desperately as the attraction needs to go away. Singapore's castle is gorgeous and plopping it down where those gaudy shops sit would be all that land needs for some excitement. What to do with it is another matter. I'd just have the insides be a Throne Room and a Banquet Hall - a Meet & Greet and Universal's version of Be Our Guest! Line the edges with the Rodeo Drive-like shops in the movies, and you've got the town of Far Far Away. The road north could lead to the Swamp and Donkey's Swamp Tours which could "rapidly" go by all the houses of the Swamp people, and get some funny narration from Donkey. Me Ship, the Olive could turn into Shrek's house, with a water play area for kids and another Meet & Greet for the non-royal Swamp denizens.

Best of all, Dudley could finally become a complete ride! It could become the "hidden town" of San Lorenzo from the Netfix series - entrance behind the castle - and involve a storyline about its protector, Puss. It could be renamed - awesomely - as Puss in Boats. You're welcome, Universal!

Popeye and Dudley are great rides that suffer from dated not-that-clever theming. Adding in the Shrek humor could put these rides on the map. Look how much everyone loves Splash Mountain and that ride is both dated and not that clever, but it has that song and a lot of animatronics. (I would LOVE to see Puss in Boats end with Puss and Donkey singing Livin' La Vida Loca with all the other Shrek characters on some boat singing backup and Shrek complaining about how it's all been done before.) Also, this would allow them to FINALLY do something with the theater, which is also another location where the castle would fit, IF they found something good to put inside it.

As for the movies, that would be a lot harder to fix. Mostly because so many other movies have gone down that Shrek route now. Despicable Me has been doing the bad-guy-turned-good routine for 3 movies now. Wreck-It Ralph has its own secretly-not-bad guy and he's apparently treading on Shrek's princess parody bit. And it would be extremely hard to parody theme parks when The Simpsons has perfected this. Shrek needs to go back to upending fairy tales, but they've proven that doing so is easier said than done.

Personally, I'd continue down the Netflix route. Only, I'd keep Shrek and Donkey in the background, as occasional guest stars. Create a Gingy series, a Pinocchio series, a Three Blind Mice series, a Princesses series, what have you. With everyone abandoning Netflix to create their own stupid streaming services, now is the time for Universal to get into bed with Netflix since they don't seem to be interested in developing their own streaming service. Just look how much excitement there was for the Stranger Things house at HHN. If even one of these series hits, then they can put some tertiary characters like the Three Little Pigs onto the same pedestal that Shrek, Donkey, Fiona and Puss share, and they wouldn't have to carry the weight alone.

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