FILM REVIEW HHH
‘Shrek,’ for All Ages
The Greatest Fairy Tale Ever ToldBy Annie S. Choi
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Written by Joe Stillman and Roger S. H. Schulman
Based upon the book by William Steig
Featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow
Dreamworks’ latest animated endeavor Shrek is what happens if the kids from South Park played the seven dwarves, if the Jerky Boys were to rescue a sleeping beauty, or if Weird Al Yankovic wrote a story about a beauty and a beast. Based upon a book by William Steig (an author known for his unconventional renditions of fairy tales, such as the story of the three little pigs -- according to the wolf), Shrek tells the fractured fairy tale of a bile-green ogre, a talking ass, a disillusioned princess, and a vertically challenged lord. While most of the plot is predictable -- after all it is still a fairy tale -- the dialogue is heretically funny and unpredictable.
The tale begins when the evil Lord Farquaad (demonically and comically played by John Lithgow) sends the ogre Shrek (whose Scottish brogue comes from Mike Myers) to save Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from, of course, a remote castle guarded by a fiery dragon. In exchange, Lord Farquaad will return peace to Shrek’s swamp, where noisy fairy tale characters have been “relocated.” Of course, every animated fairy tale has a sidekick, and Shrek unwillingly brings along a talking donkey (featuring the voice of Eddie Murphy). Princess Fiona becomes upset about the rather unconventional ways Shrek and his “noble steed” rescue her because it is not fairy-tale perfect -- the way it’s supposed to be.
Mike Myers does a splendid job as Shrek, his performance reminiscent of the father in So I Married an Axe Murderer and the psychotic UPS delivery man in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Murphy’s performance as the donkey recalls his role as the sidekick dragon in Disney’s Mulan. Since it’s rated PG, Myers and Murphy can’t go all out with their characters (an ogre and a talking ass have a lot of potential for a lot of crude humor), and both hold back more than is needed. Still, the comedic timing shines throughout the film and the fantastically funny script doesn’t hurt either. John Lithgow plays a deliciously vain Lord Farquaad, who overcompensates for his height by living in a ridiculously large Vegas-meets-Disney-theme-park-style castle. His refined Shakespearean annunciation is the exact opposite of his ruthless actions. Lord Farquaad enjoys torturing the Gingerbread Man by dunking him in milk. Princess Fiona is perhaps the weakest character of the lot -- she succumbs to Disney-fairy-tale sappiness (though she does deliver a WWF-Smackdown to Robin Hood and his Merry Men).
Shrek is definitely bold; it pokes fun at every sappy element in Disney fairy tales and includes some kick-ass fight scenes, which borrows the famous action sequences from The Matrix (what would a parody be without an allusion to The Matrix?). It features cameos of every Mother Goose and Brothers Grimm fairy-tale character, and you’d have to watch the film several times before catching just a fraction of them. Some of the characters look rather similar to Disney characters, which makes you wonder how Dreamworks managed to avoid legal action by the animation empire.
What the film lacks is animation that is as good as the script. While the people in Pixar’s Toy Story movies look and move realistically, the humans in Shrek look more like characters from a cheesy computer game like The Sims. The human characters move stiffly and look plastic. However, PDI, the animation studio behind the film, animated the donkey well, and you can almost feel the texture of his hair. Furthermore, the fiery purple dragon is stunning, and the fairy-tale characters are startling with their details. Still, it is evident that the story of Shrek is more important than how expertly the characters and backdrops are animated.
And since Shrek is an unconventional fairy tale, the music is unconventional too. Opting for hip music rather than sappy Broadway tunes, the soundtrack features tunes from Smashmouth, Baja Men, and The Proclaimers, as well as an updated version of “I’m a Believer” by Eddie Murphy himself (and yes, he can sing -- some may remember his short, short career as a R & B singer).
While the plot is predictable, the dialogue is not: Shrek explains that “Ogres make a soup from ... freshly peeled skin -- it’s quite good on toast,” and Shrek and the donkey’s puns about Lord Farquaad’s height are so bad, they’re good. It is the quirks of the individual characters that make the movie entertaining (Shrek makes candles by pulling out gobs of wax from his Martian-like ears). The film’s side-splitting references to famous Disney scenes are a reminder that Shrek does not keep anything in the fairy-tale realm sacred.