D’Works upping ante on Shrek & its sharks

Studio acknowledges moving ahead, won't give details

DreamWorks is betting big on Shrek and sharks.

With “Shrek 2” still four months from release, the studio is fast-tracking production on “Shrek 3,” in which the lovable green ogre will tackle the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

DreamWorks acknowledges it is moving ahead but won’t divulge many details.

The first order of business appears to be hiring a second set of writers to work with “Shrek 2” scribes David Stem, Joe Stillman and David N. Weiss in order to push the franchise into trilogy territory.

“Shrek 3” is not the only animated sequel project getting a push at DreamWorks. The studio is also at work on “Shark Tale 2,” even though the first film won’t bow until October.

Animated pics require more advance planning than regular feature films because of the painstaking process of bringing characters to life (toons usually take at least two years to produce). But it is nonetheless a gamble for the studio to be jump-starting a sequel project before the returns are in on its predecessor — especially when the films are not being made on paltry budgets.

DreamWorks is hungry for franchises, however. The upcoming “Ring 2” is the first live-action followup the mini-major has managed.

“Shrek” was made for about $60 million. Costs for “Shrek 2” are believed to be north of that though the company says it is less than the $80 to $90 million some have speculated. Some of the markup is due to hiked paychecks for Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, each of whom received $5 million, many times their pay for the first pic.

Considering the success of the original “Shrek” in 2001 – the pic grossed $267 million in domestic B.O. and racked up mammoth homevid sales – the gamble is not exactly reckless.

DreamWorks is going to great lengths to make sure of that. The studio has been aggressively marketing “Shrek 2,” advertising the pic in national newspapers as early as last spring and bundling “Shrek 2” calendars in several print publications.

Animation, though a growth industry of late, has not lent itself to sequels.

The most successful example was Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 2,” which outgrossed its predecessor by $50 million, banking a boffo $245 million domestically in 1999. Par’s “Rugrats” franchise has performed more unevenly. Last year’s “Rugrats Go Wild” was soft at the box office, despite the success of the series’ two earlier pics.

Animation franchises tend to thrive in the direct-to-video market, however. Key titles include “The Little Mermaid 2” and “Aladdin” sequels “The Return of Jafar” and “Aladdin and the King of Thieves.”

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