The years really do start coming and they don’t stop coming – Tuesday marks 20 years since “Shrek” hit movie theaters across the US.
Though rumors have persisted through the years that Smash Mouth, the band behind the 1999 hit “All Star,” is unhappy with being associated with the film, co-founder and bassist Paul DeLisle tells USA TODAY he’s “very proud” to be a part of “Shrek.”
The groundbreaking animated film about the titular ogre (Mike Myers) who goes on a quest with a donkey (Eddie Murphy) to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) first hit U.S. theaters on May 18, 2001. Twenty years later, many of the franchise’s handpicked tracks, including Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and David Bowie’s “Changes,” are known to fans as “Shrek songs.”
“That’s how we’re identified: kids are like, ‘look, it’s the ‘Shrek’ guys,’ ” DeLisle says of the group, originally formed in 1994. “We are the ‘Shrek’ band. What are you gonna do? You can’t fight it. I just embrace it. You’ve got to be a good sport about it.”
Initially, Smash Mouth’s producer Eric Valentine approached the musicians to see if they would put together a cover of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” DeLisle recalls they “quickly worked up a treatment… and just recorded it on the spot.” It wasn’t until later that “All Star,” a last-minute addition to their second studio album, 1999’s “Astro Lounge,” and already a hit on its own, was added into the soundtrack’s mix.
He remembers being “very pleased” with their recording of “I’m a Believer” but then “not hearing about it for a while.”
"Shrek" turns 20 on May 18, 2021. (Photo: Dreamworks 2001 photo)
“The way people explained (the movie) … it sounded like it could potentially be terrible,” he says. “Then Eddie Murphy came in to record, and I’m like, ‘OK, this is kind of a big deal.’ And then a year later, it’s the biggest movie ever in the history of the universe.”
Indeed, “Shrek” became a huge phenomenon. Loosely based on the 1990 picture book by William Steig, the first film grossed more than $484.4 million worldwide at the box office and spawned three sequels, a “Puss in Boots” spinoff and a Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Culturally, it subverted the fairytale genre, making way for a new kind of exploration into mainstream reimagining of folklore. It also launched a million bizarre memes.
While “I’m a Believer” was a memorable ending to the film, it’s “All Star” that remains the most talked-about music moment today. The song was a hit already (it became a Billboard No. 1 in the summer of 1999), but “Shrek” solidified its legacy.
Before Smash Mouth watched the film for the first time, the banddidn’t know how vital their songs were to the story: “All Star” serves as the audience’s introduction to Shrek – an animated fairytale hero unlike any most had seen before – as the green ogre sets the scene in his swamp. By the end of the film, “I’m a Believer” gives each character the happily ever after they had been seeking.
“I thought love was only true in fairytales / Meant for someone else but not for me … But then I saw her face / Now I’m a believer,” Smash Mouth sings as Shrek and Fiona ride off into the sunset on their honeymoon in a Cinderella-esque onion-turned-carriage.
Steve Harwell and Paul DeLisle of Smash Mouth perform in Wisconsin in 2014. (Photo: Oshkosh Northwestern Media Mark Ebert / Oshkosh Northwester)
But what made “Shrek” directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson think a song by an alt-rock band would be perfect for their cartoon ogre movie?
“I’m not sure why. It’s a very positive song with a very encouraging lyric, you know? And this may sound strange, but it might have something to do with our singing kind of vaguely resembles Shrek,” DeLisle jokes, referencing frontman Steve Harwell. “He’s kind of Shrek-ish himself and ever since then, I don’t think we’ve played a show in 20 years where there isn’t someone in the audience dressed up like Shrek or with a Shrek sign or something.”
Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell performs in Florida in 2016. (Photo: Jody Link/GoPensacola.com)
Initially, former Smash Mouth guitarist and songwriter Greg Camp, who wrote “All Star,” was “hesitant” about the song being used for the film, DeLisle says, but eventually came around.
“I think he’s changed his mind now,” DeLisle adds. “At the time, I think he might have felt that we were maybe losing some (street cred) or something, but I never saw it that way. I never had a problem with it. And I don’t think that lasted too long, because once everyone saw the movie it was hard to argue that we made the right choice.”
Through the years, Smash Mouth’s discography has landed into a number of pop culture projects, including “The Simpsons,” “What’s New, Scooby-Doo?” and “Roswell.” But DeLisle says “Shrek” was “special.” He would do it all again “in a heartbeat.”
“It’s such a wonderful American institution that keeps regenerating,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to be attached to, and (I’m) very proud to be a part of it.”
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