2001, PG, 85 min. Directed by Vicky Jenson, Andrew Adamson. Voices by Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassel.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 18, 2001
Aside from the computer-generated work coming out of Pixar's animation studio lately (Toy Story 2) and the ground-shaking triumph that was last year's Dinosaur, there haven't been too many animated films that have done much to reinvent the form, or for that matter, offer more than the slightest hint of originality (masterpieces like The Iron Giant are the exception, not the rule). Disney has all but abandoned the subtly shaded style of their classic films in favor of brightly colored bombast that smacks of a loss of inspiration. Their recent The Emperor's New Groove (on the whole a marginal success among theatregoers) left me cold and in need of a couple of Tylenols. The magic that had infused the classic Disney films of my younger days has been replaced by tired one-liners referencing pop culture fare and overblown theatrics better suited to a Farrelly Brothers film. So it's with immense pleasure that I say that DreamWorks' Shrek is a sly comic gem, combining a genuinely clever, very well-written story with definitive computer animation and a subversive spin on the whole nature of those classic Disney fairy tales. It's a smart film that kids will doubtless enjoy, but also provides a wealth of wry gags for adults, many of them aimed in the direction of old Walt's Magic Kingdom. Powers' Myers is the titular Shrek, a hulking green ogre who keeps to himself in his beloved swamp on the edge of a fairy-tale forest populated by a host of Disneyfied creatures. When the diminutive despot Lord Farquaad (Lithgow) orders his knights to “resettle” the forest denizens, Shrek suddenly finds his home overrun by a bizarre menagerie of talking pigs, a big bad wolf, broomstick-riding witches, a trio of talking bears, a gingerbread man, a little wooden boy, and, worst of all, a talking donkey (Murphy) who just wants to be his buddy. The irritable Shrek and the overly loquacious donkey head off to meet with Lord Farquaad, who offers to clear out the swamp if Shrek will agree to bring him the beautiful Princess Fiona (Diaz), who lies sleeping, imprisoned within a faraway castle guarded by a ferocious, knight-eating dragon. With donkey in tow, the pair set out on their quest, which only brings poor Shrek even more problems. To say more about the film's plot is to lessen its impact, though such classic fairy-tale fare as Beauty and the Beast and a big, green fistful of other comic clichés are roundly sent up throughout. Shrek has much in common with Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride, which also subverted the fairy-tale format, although here many of the barbs are clearly aimed at the ivory tower of rival studio Disney. Our first glimpse of Lord Farquaad's castle manages to call to mind both the Disney icon and a menacing neo-Reichstag -- inside the gates it's a pristine, overly stylized but vaguely threatening playland complete with an automated greeter who sings the praises of Farquaad and his keep. The animation, neither photorealistic nor traditional, fits the film's snarky tone like a glove (or possibly a glass slipper); it's the characters' facial and body movements that delight -- they're perfectly rendered and match their characters accordingly. Charmingly subversive animation like this is a rare thing indeed, and the fact that you don't have to be under 10 years of age to thoroughly enjoy Mr. Shrek's wild ride is an added bonus.