When Shrek originally was released into movie theaters in April 2001, the most popular TV at the time was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire while the most popular song was from the artist Janet Jackson. In January 2022, the Shrek brand has about as much cultural relevance as, well, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Janet Jackson. While it’s unfortunate that the sands of time erase the context of just how important Shrek, Millionaire, and Jackson were to the movie, TV, and music industries, those who lived through the era have seen the changes which occurred because of them. We’ll let others talk about the impact of Millionaire and Janet (Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty), because we are here to discuss a certain green ogre.
Ogres are like onions….Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.” – Shrek
When remembering the legacy of Shrek, most people may immediately think of the song “All-Star” by Smash Mouth. Nay Nay. What they should remember is that Shrek turned the animation industry around into making animated movies that were made for children, but also had deeper layers that adults could appreciate as well. No one is dismissing the how great the artistry and music are for Disney classics such as Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King, but story-wise, what you see is what you get. Shrek can be enjoyed purely on the surface, watching the antics of an swamp ogre battle an evil tyrant. Shrek can also be enjoyed on other levels, including one which has Lord Farquaad as a stand-in for then Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Farquaad’s empire as the Disney parks. It’s a form of subtlety that just wasn’t used for major animated films at the time, while today it has become more of the norm (including most recently in the incredible film Encanto, now available on Disney+.) Shrek also was a game changer in terms of tone. Shrek was almost a full on comedy, full of jokes and even making fun of itself. That’s not the first time it has ever happened in animation, but it had been decades since it was seen in the Warner Bros and Tex Avery cartoons. After Shrek, it was everywhere and the genre continues on to this day with hits like Wreck It Ralph.
Shrek deserves to be in a theme park, and Universal delivered him to us via Shrek 4-D in Universal Studios Florida.
It’s a typical 3D film in a theme park, with antiquated projection and glasses. Shrek 4D also has moving seats and in-theater effects like squirts of water. It’s comparable to MuppetVision 3D at Walt Disney World, minus the humor. Kids might be scared of the dark or startling effects; everyone else might be scared by how bad it is. – Tom Bricker, Disney Tourist Blog
Tom is not alone in his distaste of Shrek 4-D. Truth be told, I can’t blame him. I’m not here to say Shrek 4-D was a great experience during the last couple years, but while it was definitely NOT a Theme Park Hill To Die On, it deserves more respect than other low rated theme park attractions like Primeval Whirl.
# 6 – The Little Things
Everywhere you look around Shrek 4-D you will see wonderful little details, even signs for stroller parking. In today’s fully themed environments like The Wizarding World, Pandora: The World of Avatar, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, this level of detail is expected, but that was definitely not the case for the first 50+ years of theme parks in America.
Not since the halcyon days of Push the garbage can in Disney’s Magic Kingdom has a themed trash receptacle been so great.
# 5 – The Attraction Posters Having Fun with You-Know-Who
The early years of the Universal theme parks had attractions poking fun at their competitors down the street. This is a common strategy in many businesses. If you’re the big dog, like Disney is for theme parks, you ignore everyone else. If you’re looking up at #1, some times the gloves the come off. We’ve seen this countless times over the years with examples like Pepsi vs. Coke, Sega vs. Nintendo, Wendy’s vs. McDonalds, or WCW vs. WWE.
Shrek 4-D was just continuing what the movie it was based on did, making soft jabs at Disney. Shrek 4-D did it in the form of attraction posters, such as this one having fun with the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction in Disneyland.
While this poster was a send up of one of my personal favorite Disney attractions, The Enchanted Tiki Room.
This one mocking Dumbo is truly pushing the limits of humor and barely makes sense, but we do get several references to attractions and Fantasyland itself.
The queue of Shrek 4-D also has one more direct reference to a well known Disney character…
# 4 – The Queue
Some of the details throughout the Shrek 4-D queue are straight up bonkers, including this “rewritten” Wedding Memories poster board.
“Sorry about knocking over the cake” from the Three Blind Mice is some next level stuff. Love it.
Another bulletin board has personal ads that have to be seen to be believed. It’s hard enough to think this was actually in a theme park, and that it lasted over twenty years without a helicopter parent complaining about them. This is a level of humor that is more biting than anything in Springfield USA, and that’s one of my favorite places in any theme park.
In the early 2000s, the Universal theme parks went all in on fake movie posters. Shrek 4-D has several examples in its queue.
The Pinocchio movie poster is parodying the hilarous Jim Carrey film Liar Liar, which was released in 1997. The Claws movie poster is a clever send-up of the Jaws movie poster, with Lord Farquaad in the sky falling towards the dragon.
# 3 – The Pre-Show
The pre-show for Shrek 4-D is one for the all time ages and goes straight into the theme park Hall of Fame. It was completely subversive and even turned its mocking of theme parks towards Universal.
The pre-show itself takes place in a dungeon where we are essentially seeing beloved characters from the original Shrek movie being tortured for information. Imagine pitching this idea for a theme park attraction in 2022! Here we get the Magic Mirror recapping the events of Shrek before the ghost of Lord Farquaad (who – spoiler alert – died at the end of Shrek being eaten by a dragon) interrogates Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and everyone’s favorite Gingy on the whereabouts of Shrek and Fiona. Even the quick recap of Shrek is hilarious to watch with the added commentary by the prisoners of the dungeon. I’m not here to say Shrek 4-D is a better attraction than Flight of Passage, but the Shrek 4-D pre-show is a million times more visually interesting and fun than the interminable “and…uh, fly” pre-show for Flight of Passage.
Here is the Shrek 4-D pre-show in full.
# 2 – Shrek 4-D Picked Up Right After Shrek Ended
After the pre-show, guests grab their 3-D OgreVision glasses and head into the theater.
John Hammond was famously quoted as saying “we spared no expense” when creating Jurassic Park. Well, some expenses were definitely spared for the Shrek 4-D theater. As much insane detail as there is in the pre-show and other areas of the attraction, the actual theater itself is almost barren. Expenses were also spared over the course of two decades in lack of TLC put towards the ride system as by the end of its run, sitting through Shrek 4-D made Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit seem as smooth as the VelociCoaster in comparison. More than anything this is why most theme park fans spent the last decade visiting Shrek 4-D only during Halloween Horror Nights, when half of its capacity was converted into a haunted house.
The Ghost of Lord Farquaad movie itself was wonderful. While it has often been criticized as being a DVD special feature that you could watch while waiting in the invariably long line for Shrek 4-D, I the think the overall point was missed, this short film was good enough that DreamWorks *could* use it as a selling point as it’s own DVD (you have to remember that there was a time and day when DVD sales where actually a huge part of the Hollywood revenue stream.) That’s not easy to do. We all love the Pixar short films, but it takes a collection of 10-20 of them together in order to make a DVD purchase. Shrek 3-D just needed The Ghost of Lord Farquaad. Some may dismiss that fact out of hand, but it’s an impressive feat than most will never give it credit for.
What I truly love about The Ghost of Lord Farquaad is that it did one of the things I love most about sequels…picks up immediately after the original movie ended. Just about everyone reading this saw Spider-Man: No Way Home over the last month and it was just fantastic that the film picked up literally at the moment where Spider-Man: Far From Home ended. That is my jam. This is a stark contrast to how many sequels work, including most notably Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker which essentially started with “hey a lot of stuff happened since the last Star Wars movie you saw. We’re not gonna show any of it but we’ll put up a bunch of stuff for you to read that makes absolutely no sense.”
All the main voice actors came back for this theme park attraction. So you’re getting John Lithgow as Lord Farquaad, Eddie Murphy as Donkey, Mike Myers as Shrek, and Cameron Diaz as Fiona. Again, it is not an easy a task to assemble all the main event talent from a major Hollywood blockbuster to reprise their roles for theme park attractions, as Universal found out with Daniel Radcliffe for Escape From Gringotts and – most famously – Emma Watson for the Hogwarts Express.
The Ghost of Lord Farquaad is fun watch. You can check it out on YouTube below. You’ll be missing the 4-D features of the Shrek theater, but as we mentioned earlier, your back and neck will be thankful for that.
# 1 – The Gift Shop
Readers of this Fine Blog Series know how much we LOVE our theme park gift shops. Shrek 4-D emptied out into Shrek’s Souvenir Shop, which had many great details like the attraction’s queue.
While Walt Disney World has a lot of legacy attractions, especially Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios Florida has a high turnover. The soundstage which was the home for Shrek 4-D was the former home to Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies. It may seem impossible to believe to theme park fans now, but there was a time not all that long ago when both Universal Studios Florida and Disney’s Hollywood Studios had several attractions dedicated just to movie making process itself. Guests would get “behind-the-scenes” looks at what it took to created both movies for the big screen along with television shows. For the most part, at both USF and DHS, that aspect of the theme parks has been completely erased. One of the last remnants of Alfred Hitchcock will most likely be destroyed once the area is converted to Shrek 4-D’s replacement. In Shrek’s Souvenir Shop, if you looked up you could still see parts of The Art of Making Movies, most notably a section which was paying tribute to the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo.
Shrek’s Souvenir Shop was also home to the Shrek pressed penny machine. Hopefully this machine will be relocated across the street to the Shrek & Donkey Meet and Greet, which is still one of the all time best meet and greets at Universal or Disney.
HONORABLE MENTION – Farewell Tee
One nice thing we got during the last month of Shrek 4-D was a Farewell Tee sold in Shrek’s Souvenir Shop. We mentioned in last year’s IN MEMORIAM that theme park fans don’t always get the closure they’d like when attractions close. Whether you liked a particular attraction or not, it was somebody’s favorite, and most likely enjoyed by a lot of guests over its run. It’s always nice when Universal or Disney put out merchandise when an attraction reaches its end. One last memento for the fans.
So there you have it: 6 Reasons We Loved SHREK 4-D! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.