Why It’s Way Too Early For a ‘Shrek’ Reboot
One of the many downsides to Hollywood rifling through older intellectual property to make new movies is how the terms used to describe those new movies have been rendered meaningless. There used to be sequels and prequels, but we’re now also given reboots, revivals, re-imaginings, and so on. These terms can be used to describe anything that Hollywood makes, accuracy be damned. To wit: Yesterday, the head honcho of Illumination Entertainment, Chris Meledandri, was reported as saying he wants to reboot the Shrek and Puss in Boots films. With the original cast members involved.
In other words, Meledandri is really saying that he wants to make a sequel in the Shrek franchise. Studios, whether they’re making animated or live-action films, muddy the waters on the definition of a sequel or reboot on what feels like a daily basis. For example: this weekend, Sony is releasing The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, Based On the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (I believe that is the full title). While David Fincher is on board as an executive producer, the cast and crew are largely different from those involved in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. You might want to call it a reboot, except ... the new film is also clearly a sequel to Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo. And Disney’s onslaught of remakes of earlier animated films will reach its apex next summer with Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, dubbed a live-action reimagining by some reporters even though it stars a cast of CGI animals. (I’ll eat crow if needed, but seeing as there are no humans in The Lion King, I feel comfortable calling it an animated remake.)
And now we have the potential of new Shrek and Puss in Boots stories, not too long after the big green ogre was next to impossible to avoid in popular culture. Aside from the four feature films from DreamWorks Animation, there were Shrek attractions at the Universal Studios theme parks, a Broadway show, video games, TV spinoffs, specials, and more. Two of the spinoff series focusing on Puss in Boots aired on Netflix as early as, let me just check my records here, January of this year. How, Shrek and Puss in Boots, can we miss you if you won’t leave?
Now that Meledandri and Illumination Entertainment have become the Universal Pictures equivalent of Pixar for the Walt Disney Company — Universal has distributed all of Illumination’s films to date, and they recently acquired DreamWorks Animation — they’re more heavily involved in the overall animation game. While it’s interesting to consider a new Shrek coming from a studio that’s worked with stylistically different animation from their first feature film, Despicable Me. Whatever else can be said of that franchise, the design and layout of these films don’t look anything close to Shrek or Puss in Boots. So whatever Meledandri and his animators come up with, it might look different—and frankly better—than even the last Shrek film.
But here’s the two-sided rub: Illumination’s films are typically quite bad, no matter how financially profitable they are. The Shrek movies should just be allowed to die a quiet death, instead of being brought back to life like Frankenstein’s Monster. No doubt Illumination would be able to improve upon the now-very-antiquated-looking computer animation in the first Shrek, from 2001. (I know, computer-animation technology has come a long way since then, but watch Shrek and Monsters, Inc. side by side. They both opened in 2001. One looks solid in 2018. The other one is the inaugural winner for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, Shrek.) But most Illumination films look disturbingly alike. Even the ads for their newest film, The Grinch, it’s kind of shocking how the Grinch’s faithful dog Max looks like the lead character of The Secret Life of Pets: a dog ... named Max. (The Grinch also has an overweight reindeer in the new movie, who looks awfully like the hefty dog Duke from the 2016 film.)
Then there’s the fact that Meledandri wants to bring back the original cast. Certainly, it might be odd to hear someone aside from Mike Myers lay on a thick Scottish brogue to voice Shrek. But why bring Myers back at all? He and Eddie Murphy have both been exceptionally, gut-bustingly funny before — in live-action form, 20 years ago. The notion of rebooting Shrek, Donkey, and Princess Fiona with the same cast would be even odder than just doing a straight-up sequel. And the notion of a fifth Shrek laden with excessive pop-culture references, snarky humor about fairy-tale tropes, and off-color jokes meant to keep adults happy is none too exciting. It’d be nice to think some family films could move past these now-lazy clichés of modern animation, as opposed to just doing the same thing over again.
That, of course, is what reboot culture is: doing the same thing over again. So it’s not shocking that Illumination Entertainment may reboot Shrek; the company excels at doing the same thing over and over again. (Three of their nine films to date are sequels or spinoffs — and their next three projects are all sequels.)
My Grinch-y thoughts aside, Illumination makes very financially successful animated features. Their movies have grossed more than $5.7 billion worldwide. If anyone was going to reboot Shrek, it might as well be Meledandri and company. But here’s a novel idea: instead of doing a new Shrek film, how about not? Or, putting it more succinctly: Shrek no.
Gallery - Movie Reboots That Are Also Sequels: