Release: 2001, DreamWorks Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow Director: Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson MPAA Rating: [PG] language Genre: Fantasy/Comedy
The greatest fairy tale never told...
When an ugly green ogre (Myers) is sent to rescue a beautiful princess (Diaz), the two discover they have a lot in common in this comedic fairy tale that shows beauty is only skin deep.
Eddie Murphy is hilarious as a talking donkey
an entertaining tale for both children and adults
offbeat humor accompanied by a great soundtrack
raises the accomplishments of computer animation yet again
some material may be familiar for fans of Myers and Murphy
a typical, if not heartwarming, "true love is blind" message
This movie is like a donkey eating a waffle. What does that mean? Well, I'm not exactly sure--the phrase was coined by Ray Romano. But I think it captures some of my initial impressions of Shrek: deliberate, determined, hard working, and sometimes funnier in concept than execution.
Parodying a slew of traditional fairy tales, Shrek tells the story of an ugly green ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers) who lives alone in a swamp. But his privacy and real estate are threatened when the diminutive Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) dumps a mob of fairy tale creatures there. So Shrek eventually makes a deal with Farquaad: he'll go on a quest for the little tyrant in return for exclusive ownership of his land. Farquaad agrees, sending Shrek on a mission to retrieve the beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the clutches of a dragon. Tagging alongside Shrek is the simply named Donkey (Eddie Murphy), a lonely pack animal who just wants a friend.
From the moment the movie kicks off with Smashmouth's "All Star" playing over the opening credits, it's clear Shrek is an offbeat story like no other. Through the course of the movie, all the fairy tale standards (Snow White, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, the list goes on and on) are turned upside down, as are modern conventions ranging from Disneyland to movie cliches. Indeed, this animated adventure raises the bar of technical achievement while entertaining the whole family.
Stealing the show is Eddie Murphy's character of Donkey. This grinning, U-shaped beast of burden is a non-stop chatterbox in desperate need of companionship. As much a sight gag as anything, Donkey is funny just to look at, and the simplicity of his name alone inspires laughs, especially when Myers belts it off with a Scottish accent. Cameron Diaz also brings a good deal of comedy as Princess Fiona, who's not unlike Diaz's character of Natalie in Charlie's Angels--she's a bit spacey, but fully capable of kicking butt. Two of the movie's funnier scenes exemplify her personality: in the first, she goes to great lengths to have a by-the-book first encounter with her rescuer, only to have Shrek wake her with a rough shakedown instead of a kiss; and in the second, she single-handedly lays waste to Robin Hood and his band of flamboyantly Merry Men in a great scene that mimics both The Matrix and Lord of the Dance.
Technically proficient, Shrek raises the bar yet again for expectations of a computer generated movie. Unlike predecessors such as Antz and Toy Story, humans play a significant part on this canvas, and they're marching ever closer toward absolute realism. The close-ups of Princess Fiona really make this stand out. Here, we're getting more realistic facial expressions and more detail in skin texture. Any more realism, and things are going to get disturbing (witness the upcoming Final Fantasy)!
If there's any shortcoming to Shrek, it's that it spends too much time parodying other stories--to the point that it doesn't manage to create a story it can call its own. Its ultimate message that true love is blind may take things one step further than a traditional Disney tale by putting its money where its mouth is (evidenced by Princess Fiona's interesting secret), but it's still essentially the same thing other stories of the genre adhere to.
Also echoing things of the past are the routines of Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. Fans of both comedians will no doubt recognize a lot of the actors in Shrek and Donkey, respectively. Myers imbues the ogre with the same Scottish voice he has used on many previous occasions (the father in So I Married an Axe Murderer, Fat Bastard in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and several SNL sketches). And Murphy as Donkey is too similar to what he did as the miniature dragon in Mulan (although to be fair, Donkey is a funnier character that lets Murphy cut loose a bit more).
Beneath its renegade exterior, Shrek may be a conventional fairy tale that parodies too much for its own good. But that doesn't stop it from being a true crowd pleaser. Its instant box office boom is due in part to its charismatic stars, but a good chunk of that success is also due to the movie's universal appeal--both kids and adults can find something to enjoy in this lighthearted comedy. This is the first movie I've seen in a long time where the laughter of the audience actually drowned out the onscreen dialogue. And that, undeniably, is a sure sign of comedic achievement.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)