Where do you draw the line between homage and theft? This is something we’ve touched on before here at Film Junk (particularly in the case of one Mr. Quentin Tarantino) but here’s another unexpected case where the issue has reared its ugly head. As some of you may know, former Monty Python members Eric Idle and John Cleese contribute their voice talents to Shrek The Third. Now, although I haven’t seen the movie, apparently there is a joke at the beginning that references the coconut/horse galloping gag from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and most viewers who are in the know would probably assume it’s a nod to their involvement in the film. The thing is, the producers of Shrek The Third never told Eric Idle about it, and when he saw the joke during the film’s premiere he was outraged.
During a radio interview on Mix FM in Toronto, Idle had this to say: “Wait a minute, John and I are in this film and you steal our joke? Um, I don’t know how the others are going to take to this … I hope they [Dreamworks] cleared it with them. The first I saw it was in the premiere, and I was SHOCKED. My whole family went ‘WHAT! How dare you!’. So I walked out, calmed down, and walked back in, but I was shocked and I think if you steal people’s jokes, I don’t think that’s homage, I think that’s theft.” Now, coming from someone with a comedic background, and without hearing the original interview, it’s hard to say if this was meant to be taken seriously or not. But even if he was kidding around, I do think he actually brings up a valid point. Yes, this is Shrek The Third we’re talking about, and all of the Shrek movies riff on pop culture; in fact, that’s really the only kind of humour they use. But while I don’t necessarily think this is a capital offense, I do think that transplanting a joke into a new environment without changing it is still a form of theft. More importantly, though, it’s a great example of why the Shrek movies actually aren’t very funny at all and why I’m glad I didn’t waste my time seeing Shrek The Third!