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Shrek Forever After – Director Mike Mitchell harks back to a classic movie

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Shrek Forever After - Director Mike Mitchell
Director Mike Mitchell and Puss In Boots © DreamWorks

In the final installment of the Shrek franchise, Shrek Forever After, the ogre (Mike Myers) is dissatisfied with his happily married life, longing for the good old days when he could scare the villagers away from his swamp, instead of autographing their pitchforks. Making a deal with the evil Rumpelstiltskin, Shrek finds himself in an alternate world where he and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have never met, Rumpelstiltskin is the King, and the only way to save his family and friends is to woo and win Fiona’s heart again.

Mike Mitchell has worked with DreamWorks Animation since 1996, storyboarding/consulting on such films as Antz, Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs Aliens. As the director of Shrek Forever After, he spoke with us about the final chapter of the Shrek tale.

Can you talk about using the movie It’s a Wonderful Life as the basis for the story?

Shrek Forever After - Cameron Diaz and Mike Myers
As Fiona (Cameron Diaz) sleeps peacefully, Shrek (Mike Myers) has trouble doing so © DreamWorks

That was something that came very early in the writing process years ago with Josh Klausner, one of our writers. I was really excited by embracing the fact that Shrek isn’t the same Shrek that he was in the first movie. He’s different, he’s not that same ogre, he’s a dad now and he’s got responsibilities and people rely on him, and I thought that was so interesting to take that as his issue.

In the previous films he always wants to get back to the swamp, that’s his main goal, well now he’s there and he’s surrounded by people he loves and he’s not satisfied. He’s not the ogre he used to be, and so we embraced that concept. And we love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s one of our favorite movies of all time.

Shrek Forever After - Aron Warner and Walt Dohrn
Wolf (Aron Warner) and the witches have no choice but to do the bidding of Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) © DreamWorks

Shrek movies always recognizes the joke they are telling and they wink at the audience, did you ever consider naming anyone George Bailey or doing something from the film that said, ‘We know we’re doing It’s a Wonderful Life’?

Yeah, we considered Shrek running through the streets going, ‘Hello movie theatre,’ but it’s such an iconic film that we really wanted to go at it emotionally and have people walk away with the feeling of maybe there is no such thing as happily ever after, but even with all its flaws life is really, really great.

And we certainly didn’t want to make fun of It’s a Wonderful Life, even though it’s so easy and it’s ripe for the picking. We wanted it to be more of an homage to that type of storytelling, because I think it’s a really powerful message, so we leaned more towards the message than doing a Shrek parody of it.

Can you talk about turning Puss In Boots into a fat cat for the ‘alternate universe?’

Shrek Forever After - Antonio Banderas
Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) as a domesticated fat cat © DreamWorks

We wanted to turn everything on its head and Puss In Boots is a swashbuckling character, agile, ladies man, and we were like, ‘What’s the opposite of that?’ Someone who has no interest at all and just lives in the lap of luxury.

That being said, we created this twenty minute long flashback that we cut out of the film. I won’t tell you the whole flashback, but the story is like a cop who hangs up their gun and their badge, saying, ‘I’m never going back there again.’

We thought that was a really interesting character arc, where he is ashamed of his past of being an ogre hunter, and he hangs up his boots and his sword, and at the end of the movie, it’s another scene we cut out, he has to squeeze back into his boots and his sword and he’s ready to fight.

Shrek Forever After - Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas
Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) © DreamWorks

We were just playing with what you would never expect from Antonio Banderas and Puss In Boots. He retired, he doesn’t want to swashbuckle anymore.

What will be on the DVD?

We have a deleted scene that was completed in lighting and animation, it’s a crazy scene where all the fairy tale creatures are attacking Shrek; it’s very dark and funny at the same time. The alternate reality version of every fairy tale creature attacking their best buddy Shrek, and it look like it was completed, and it was, and we just took it out at the last minute. I think that’s really interesting to see in the film.

Is this really the last Shrek?

We’ve brought it to a satisfying conclusion I feel and we were really cautious in summing up the previous Shrek films, and yes it’s kind of sad it’s the final one, but I think there’s going to be a Puss In Boots movie that’s at the studio, Dreamworks is working on now, kind of like The Jeffersons, spinning off from All in the Family!