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.
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.Tweet
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