It’s been a wonderful week for Chris Farley fans. The Farley doc I Am Chris Farley opened in theaters on Friday (it hits VOD next Tuesday). Then Farley starred in Mission: Impossible ‐ Rogue Nation. Kinda. And yesterday, the secret wish of every Farley fan finally came true: a clip of Farley’s unreleased Shrek voice recordings were discovered online.
Consequence of Sound found this on Reddit, where someone else found it on Vimeo, where John Garbett, a producer who worked on Shrek in its early days, actually posted it online in 2013. No one noticed it until yesterday. I wonder how long Garbett’s been waiting for this to blow up.
I am so overjoyed to finally see this footage (I’ve wondered about it for years, as I assume is the case for anyone with a soft spot for Chris Farley). And even more overjoyed that it actually lives up to those super-lofty expectations. It’s stamped all over with that lumbering-buffalo-with-the-heart-of-a-toddler Farley quality; funny and endearing.
I know the original Farley version of Shrek was supposed to be an unreleasable disaster. Dreamworks would banish fired artists to Shrek as a form of punishment. It was referred to as “The Gulag.” The original plan of motion-capture characters set against real-world sets was supposedly terrifying to look at. “It looked terrible, it didn’t work, it wasn’t funny, and we didn’t like it,” recalls producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. But these two and a half minutes, at least, speak to being a part of a lovable little animated movie.
I don’t know how much of that original Shrek Garbett has in his possession, or if he was even allowed to air this in the first place (maybe now that it’s hit the news cycle, Dreamworks will ascend to Vimeo and strike it down). But I’d love to see more. Please release more.
There’s also quite a bit we can glean about Farley’s Shrek just from these two and a half minutes.
Mike Myers reportedly had Dreamworks completely re-tool the script when he replaced Farley, but that retooling might not be as thorough as anyone (or I, at least) thought. Mostly because this leaked Farley scene is instantly recognizable in the finalized Shrek.
The scenes occur in different places in the film (in the Myers Shrek, it’s after Shrek and Donkey have “rescued” Princess Fiona, while in the Farley Shrek it’s before), but the tone, the character points and even large chunks of the dialogue are identical.
Shrek and Donkey lie by a campfire and discuss their motivations for the princess-rescuing quest (to Farley-Shrek, “if you’re not doing this for cockle-warming, why are you doing it?” To Myers-Shrek, “What are we gonna do when we get our swamp, anyway?”). Shrek gets defensive, as Shreks are wont to do. Donkey plays therapist and digs into the root of Shrek’s angry, blustery nature. He makes some decent breakthroughs. The two buddies come to a truce and say goodnight.
Aside from a few minor word-swaps (an “it” instead of a “me,” for example), the dialogue’s been CTRL-V’ed straight from Farley’s version to Myers.
Donkey: Ohhhhhh, this is another one of those onion things.
Shrek: No, this is one of those ‘drop it and leave me alone’ things!
Donkey: Why don’t you wanna talk about it?
Shrek: Why do you want to talk about it?
Donkey: Why are you blocking?
Shrek: I’m not blocking!
Those are taken from the just-released Farley clip. Now watch them again in the Shrek we’ve all seen. I could only find it YouTube in iPhone-pointed-at-the-TV quality, so… sorry.
The similarities don’t stop there. Given the onion reference, we can assume the running “ogres are like onions” metaphor was first introduced in Farley’s version of the film. And dialogue referencing Lord Farquaad (“Simple. Farquaad gets his princess, I get what I want,” snipes Shrek) implies that the inciting action and probably the general framework of the first half of the film ‐ Farquaad hiring Shrek and Donkey to rescue the princess ‐ are the same.
Also, an “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills” moment, finally solved: I never got the “it’s supposed to sound like a dirty word” joke that is Lord Farquaad’s name. Childhood me didn’t pick up on it at all, and adult me kinda assumed it was “fuckwad” (that appears to be the general consensus), but that always seemed a little shaky.
Finally, an answer. It’s “fartwad.” His name is supposed to sound like “fartwad.” 21 seconds into the Farley audio, when Shrek gives the “Farquaad gets his princess” line, he is clearly saying “fartwad.” Go back and listen, if you want. I don’t think you can dispute it. And when the name comes up again, later in the clip, the “Q” sound is very clearly enunciated, so Farquaad is more than likely his real name and “fartwad” is just being slipped in there now and again. A revelation.
The clip also highlights two major branching-off points between the two Shreks. The first would be Shrek’s underlying motivation. When Myers voices him, Shrek is an older curmudgeon who just wants people to leave him alone. That clutched-inside pain Donkey susses out? It’s that he’s gonna build a wall around his swamp to keep everyone out. The whole world hates ogres, so fine, whatever! He’ll stay inside forever. Nuts to you.
With Farley, his inner turmoil is the much more cryptic “Leave my parents out of this!” Which is shouted just after Donkey pries, with “Someone hurt you so bad, someone hurt you many years ago!”
So Shrek’s parents hurt him. Somehow. We don’t find out just how (one can guess it’d be explained early on, or maybe as a late-in-the-movie reveal), but we’ve got context clues here. Shrek wants “a home, and someone to share it with.” His folks “always told [him] that everyone loves ogres.”
“I guess they were a little over-protective,” Shrek admits.
“You want to make ’em proud,” adds Donkey.
So Shrek doesn’t have a home, seeks the love of his parents and presumably discovered the world’s true feelings about ogres in a very unpleasant moment (there’s no better kind of armchair psychiatry than the kind performed on a fictional cartoon ogre). And according to Jim Hill’s account of Shrek’s long and troubled production (which is extremely in-depth and which I’ve been citing, a lot, throughout this piece), here’s the reason. Shrek “was about a teenage ogre who wasn’t all that eager to go into the family business. You see, young Shrek didn’t really want to frighten people. He longed to make friends, help people. This ogre actually dreamed of becoming a knight.”
What happened with his parents past that? Again, there’s no way of knowing, but it probably has something to do with William Steig’s original picture book, “Shrek!”
This page in particular:
Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The picture-book text reads, “One day, Shrek’s parents hissed things over and decided it was about time their little darling was out in the world doing his share of damage. So they kicked him goodbye, and Shrek left the black hole in which he’d been hatched.”
Book-Shrek doesn’t seem to care. He’s grinning, even as his parents’ feet connect squarely with his butt. No big deal. But Farley-Shrek’s a much bigger softie than Book-Shrek (example: “Any snake dumb enough to bite him instantly got convulsions and died.” It’s a very odd kids’ book). A similar kicking-out incident might wound Farley-Shrek far deeper.
It’s not much to go on, but that page above is one of only three references to Shrek’s parents. There’s a line in Shrek the Third, explaining how his parents tried to eat him and Dad “used to bathe me in barbecue sauce and put me to bed with an apple in my mouth.” And Shrek the Musical’s opening number, “Big Bright Beautiful World,” wherein Shrek’s parents cast seven-year-old Shrek out of the swamp. As is ogre tradition, apparently. “You’re ugly son / which means that life is harder. / People hate the things they cannot understand,” sings Mom. There’s no way of knowing if either production mined a decades-old Shrek script for the character’s original roots, but neither actually fit with what Farley-Shrek tells Donkey. So it’s kind of a moot point.
The other major detail we can gleam- Shrek, in its original state, is so much more of a Chris Farley vehicle than I think anyone realized. Check out side-by-side clips again (here, I’ll save you the trouble of extra scrolling):
There’s another line that found its way into both scripts. Shrek laments how the world sees him: “People see me and they go, ‘BAAAAH! HELP! A BIG, STUPID, STINKY, UGLY, UGLY OGRE! I’M SO SCARED!’ “
For one, Farley uses more adjectives than Myers, who just calls himself a “big stupid ugly ogre.” But side-by-side, Myers’s deliver has almost zero weight and Farley’s is wildly personal. Probably because Myers is trying to deliver a line that’s clearly been written with Farley in mind, as that same moment of shouted self-deprecation is found in nearly everything Farley’s ever made.
The actual clip from Farley’s Shrek is just an animatic, so all we have to go on is a still sketch of Shrek yelling, his arms raised with little motion-lines around them. But you can practically see Farley crammed into a sound booth, flinging his arms up and pumping them downward on every STUPID, STINKY, UGLY insult, his face turning red and his hair growing wilder with every word.
According to the Tom Farley and Tanner Colby’s Farley biography, “The Chris Farley Show” (via Salon), the script was already in place when Farley was cast, but the fluid process of making an animated movie- storyboard the script, record the dialogue, screen the whole product and keep tweaking it- meant that over time, Shrek took on a very significant Chris Farley quality.
Farley’s Shrek “was born of frustration and self-doubt, an internal struggle between the certainty of a good heart and the insecurity of not understanding things,” says Shrek screenwriter Terry Rossio.
Another Rossio quote: “What struck me most seeing him work was his willingness to reveal himself, lay himself out bare, over and again, for the sake of his performance.”
And according to Farley’s brother Kevin, “Originally the Shrek character was a little bit more like Chris, like a humble, bumbling innocent guy.”
Shrek, in its original state, seems as much like a great big huggable Tommy Boy of a movie as anything else Farley’s ever done. It’s a shame. The more we see of it, the clearer it is how much we’re missing.
There’s more to add about the Shrek we never saw. How the character slowly morphed from genuinely ugly to “ugly” in a cute, will-sell-a-million-backpacks-and-lunchboxes sense. Tom Hester was lead character designer on Shrek and his website has plenty of concept art to peruse. Here’s a pretty clear illustration of the gradual erasure of Shrek’s double chin.
I’d love to see concept art of Fiona from this period, originally voiced by Janeane Garofalo, with an “abrasive, sarcastic” quality that matched her real-life persona. In the original book, she’s as much of a pimple-faced nightmare as Shrek is. Garofalo was let go because her abrasive Fiona didn’t match with the sourer, post-Farley Shrek, but apparently no one bothered to tell her that.
Although really? I just want to see more of that unreleased animatic. It’s thrown around that Farley recorded up to 80%-90% of the dialogue, so there’s got to be more out there. Surely it’s better served being pored over by Chris Farley’s fans than collecting dust on somebody’s hard drive. John Garbett, if you’re out there, please give us a hand.
One final pang of regret- the music that cues up as Shrek and Donkey say goodnight is Tom Waits’ “Innocent When You Dream.” Whatever else was on the soundtrack, I’m guessing it was a far cry above Smash Mouth and the Monkees. Listen, think about Shrek, and feel sad.