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movies > shrek


One of the biggest financial hits of 2001, "Shrek" took many by surprise. "Antz," the previous computer-animation outing from Pacific Data Images (PDI) and DreamWorks, was better than expected, but "Shrek" is a whole heck of a lot better than that. Bright, sassy and funny, at times it's also genuinely moving. Partly a sendup of fairy tales, partly an effective fairy tale itself, "Shrek" has something for everyone (including numerous gross-out jokes). However, it's unlike the Pixar/Disney films in that it isn't aimed simultaneously at everyone; the jokes at the expense of fairy tales (largely the Disney versions of those fairy tales) are for adults, while the slapstick is largely for kids. But it's a combination that worked wonders at the boxoffice.

Shrek is voiced by Mike Myers, peculiarly using a Scottish accent, and for the first time in his movie career, I actually liked him. Usually I find his smirking, smug self-satisfaction grating and repellent; maybe Shrek works better because I can't see Myers. Shrek is a big green ogre who lives by himself in a swampy forest, and it's the way he likes it. He scares off the usual villagers with torches, and hopes to just be let alone forever. He's not a bad guy; he just assumes that because he's an ogre, everyone he meets will hate him.

But nearby Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) has been cleaning up the land he rules by sending away all the fairy tale creatures that populate it -- sending them to Shrek's swamp. He's anxious for it all to be completely perfect, and to that end, wants to be a king. The Magic Mirror tells him he can become a King if he marries a princess, and offers in Dating Game fashion several possibilities, including Snow White -- and Princess Fiona, who's held captive in a bleak castle on an island in a lake of lava, and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.

Shrek is enraged by all the fairy tale types invading his swamp (and his house). A chatterbox of a Donkey (Eddie Murphy) enlists as Shrek's sidekick, much to Shrek's initial annoyance, and they head for Farquaad's Disneyland-like castle. Shrek (and Donkey) gleefully defeat a bunch of knights, so Farquaad -- who's very short, by the way -- says Shrek can have his swamp back if he'll fetch Princess Fiona from her captivity.

Accompanied by Donkey, Shrek does just that. The dragon, who turns out to be female, falls madly in love with Donkey, which helps some, but doesn't prevent her from trying to roast Shrek and the surprised Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who expected her rescuer to be a knight in shining armor.

Naturally, though, as they head back to Farquaad, she and Shrek begin to be attracted to one another....

As scripted by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman from the novel by William Steig, the main storyline of "Shrek" is a straightforward romantic fantasy adventure; the comedy lies in the details and the dialog, particularly that of Donkey. Eddie Murphy has developed into one of the most reliably funny animation voices ever; somehow, he keeps Donkey annoying and appealing all the time. Donkey is ambitious a bit beyond his abilities; when he thinks Shrek is inviting him to live with him, he exclaims "In the morning I'll make waffles!" Having no fingers would make that very difficult. But he's also compassionate, understanding Shrek's inferiority feelings, and is determined to improve the lot of his friend.

Cameron Diaz is also outstanding as the voice of Princess Fiona (who doesn't look anything like the actress), both before and after we learn her strange secret. The animation of Fiona is particularly good; it's clear that directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson could have gone for something closer to photo-realism, but that would have clashed with the more cartoony Shrek and Donkey. Nonetheless, Fiona is extremely expressive in both facial expressions and body language.

Myers is good as the voice of Shrek, but he's not quite up to the level reached by Murphy and Diaz, partly because of that ill-considered Scottish accent. (Probably left over from his "Fat Bastard" character in the second Austin Powers movie.) Shrek mostly yells or growls; there are only a few scenes in which he has dialog as gentle as his personality.

Lithgow is also a bit over the top as Lord Farquaad; his emotions, though clear, are very limited, as is the character. He's not helped by an odd clash between the message of the film -- what's important is the kind of person you are, not what you look like -- and the fact that Shrek and his friends make several short jokes about Farquaad. Evidently, being short is automatically funny.

The film is beautifully designed; the backgrounds are never satirical, but lovely fairy-tale images often, it seems, inspired by the paintings of Maxfield Parrish. It's a soft, pastel world (except at the dragon-guarded castle), as romantic and gentle as Shrek's true nature.

This DVD, issued, like the film, by DreamWorks and Universal, includes two discs. The first one presents the feature full-frame, with lots of extras supported by animated menus. The second disc includes the feature letterboxed and more extras; the second disc has an Easter egg that leads you to a "karoke party" that's merely one of the menu selections on the first disc. There's an HBO documentary on the making of "Shrek" on disc one, which is quite interesting, but much of the interview footage from this documentary turns up in one of the several documentaries on disc two.

Disc two also features storyboarded sequences being pitched by animation directors that were never otherwise filmed; in every case, the decision not to include the sequence was wise -- one, for example, intended for the beginning of the film gave away the Big Surprise about Fiona. There are also "technical goofs," as when a newcomer accidentally altered a program slightly that resulted in Donkey being as fuzzy as a Chia pet.

There are also games for kids -- hours of them -- trailers, biographies, commentary tracks and the usual sort of things available on extended DVDs. This one promises a total of ELEVEN hours of extra material; few reviewers -- including me -- really have the time or patience to go through it all, but it's probably a great gift disc for families with children. It's less appealing for kid-less adults, because as entertaining as the movie is the first time through, it really doesn't hold up too well to repeated viewings. But then, almost all movies are really intended to be seen only once.

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