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
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
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
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.