Eric Idle Threatened to Sue ‘Shrek 3’ for Ripping Off Monty Python

Idle angrily stormed out of the film’s premiere
Eric Idle Threatened to Sue ‘Shrek 3’ for Ripping Off Monty Python

These days we’re used to seeing Eric Idle feud with other members of Monty Python, but it’s easy to forget that the Rutles star has also gotten into squabbles with other famous folks. Like how, once upon a time, Idle threatened to take legal action against everybody’s favorite flatulent green ogre: Shrek.

2007’s Shrek the Third featured Idle as the voice of Merlin the wizard and also John Cleese, who reprised his role as Fiona’s father King Harold. It was like a mini-Python reunion in which the two Pythons mercifully never had to be in the same room together.

But when Idle saw the film for the first time, he freaked out. Why? Because of a brief gag that comes in the opening minute of the film, in which Prince Charming is seen riding a horse that turns out to be fake. It’s all part of a theatrical performance, and the galloping sound effect is provided by a stagehand banging two halves of a coconut shell together. 

Of course, this is reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which similarly replaced actual horses with coconut-based sound effects, a classic joke that was created purely because the production couldn’t afford live animals. 

In an interview with 99.9 MIX FM back in 2007, Idle admitted that the Python’s coconut conceit was “a radio joke” (coconut shells really were used to create the sound of horse’s hooves during the golden age of radio), but he also accused Shrek the Third of “patently” stealing the bit from The Holy Grail, adding, “so we’ll be able to sue their asses.” 

Idle wasn’t kidding around either, he was genuinely pissed. “Wait a minute, John and I are in this film, and you steal our joke?” Idle asked before suggesting that DreamWorks “also (stole) from Spamalot.” When the interviewer pointed out that the scene was likely meant as an “homage” to Monty Python, Idle fired back, “Do you think if I stole your wallet that’d be homage to your money?”

Apparently, Idle didn’t know about this particular aspect of Shrek the Third until he watched the film with his family at the premiere. He became so enraged that he stormed out of the theater. “I was shocked. My whole family went, ‘What? How dare you!,’” said Idle. “So I walked out — calmed down — and walked back in, but I was shocked, and I think if you steal peoples jokes, I don’t think that’s homage, I think that’s theft.”

Which seems like a bit of an overreaction seeing as it arguably wasn’t even the same joke. Monty Python’s coconut joke was rooted in absurdity, depicting actual knights who have inexplicably substituted horses with a sound effect. Shrek the Third, on the other hand, was entirely grounded in reality, the coconuts being one of many stage effects that Prince Charming is utilizing. 

With all due respect to Mr. Idle, you can’t copyright coconuts. I mean, it wasn’t even his idea to use coconuts in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. According to Cleese, it was Michael Palin who came with that particular comedic masterstroke. 

And as far as we know, Palin has never threatened to take legal action against any residents of Far Far Away…

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