When Dreamworks formed a few years back, it was no secret in Hollywood that one of the new studio's heads had a beef with Disney. Jeffrey Katzenberg had been the head of animation at the Mouse House and had been in charge of such favorites as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. After a very public falling out, Katzenberg left Disney and sued for millions. The case was eventually settled, but Katzenberg has been on the warpath ever since. With Shrek, Dreamworks hits hard and often, and comes up with a movie that is great fun on several different levels.
Shrek is an ogre. You can tell this not only by his big green bulbous head, tiny trumpet-like ears, and rows of blunted, squared off teeth begging for orthodontic work, but by his attitude as well. He doesn't want you around, and goes to great pains to make sure everyone knows it. But does he really enjoy being alone, or is it that he's just lonely and bitter? (Insert obligatory message about tolerance and understanding of differences here). When Shrek's solitary existence is threatened, he is forced to go on a quest to find a princess for Lord Farquadd, a petty, diminutive ruler who bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Eisner, Disney's CEO. Along the way we meet a host of hilarious characters, including Cameron Diaz as a kick-butt princess with modern sensibilities but old fashioned expectations, and Eddie Murphy, who steals the show as a talking donkey named Donkey.
Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) proves to Shrek (Mike Myers) that she is not your typical damsel in distress in Dreamworks' Shrek - 2001
It's no surprise that Shrek is going to be successful. Besides the fact that it's a showpiece with incredible computer animation (photorealistic fur, grass, mud, earwax; everything but eyes and skin, they've really got to work on those), it's a marketing bonanza. This movie is perfect for kids. It's not too scary, not too long, and not boring at all, and thusly, it will be marketed 'til the cows come home. The story is great, as is the acting, but the money here will be made at McDonald's and Toys 'R Us.
Mike Meyers is really the star, as he plays the title character, but I felt his humor was a little underused. He was pretty much the straight man to Murphy's motormouthed jackass. Eddie Murphy, who has been on a major career upswing, is fantastic, and keeps the jokes coming, rapid-fire. Diaz is very funny, playing both sweet and sour at the same time. One scene that sums up the whole demeanor of the film shows her dancing through the forest at sunrise, singing to the morning with a happy bluebird who is tending a nest-full of eggs. Unfortunately, the bluebird's song is no match for that of this perfect storybook princess, and in an attempt to keep up, blows itself to pieces. Looking shamefaced at the few remaining feathers falling into the nest of now motherless eggs, the princess ponders an appropriate course of action to rectify this unfortunate situation. The next scene shows her frying up breakfast, sunny-side up.
Shrek (Mike Myers) takes a refreshing mud bath in Dreamworks' Shrek - 2001
Much of the movie is this way. For me, the funniest parts of the movie involve Lord Farquadd's Fairy Tale Creature Relocation program. In order to purify the land, Farquadd rounds up all the undesireables and ships them off to the swamp. I love the scene where they throw a protesting Pinocchio into the paddywagon. "But I'm a real boy!" he shouts as his nose grows a foot. Everyone from Cinderella to the Seven Dwarves are given the heave-ho, all in the name of perfection. The barbs are none too subtle when you show beloved Disney characters of the past huddling in a refugee camp while Lord Farquadd parades around his sterile, strictly regimented kingdom.
Before you get the idea that Shrek is one long slap in the face to Disney, let me remind you that is a very funny, very well done slap in the face to Disney. Kids will love the animation, which is truly amazing, as well as the slapstick and the endless parade of quirky characters. Adults will appreciate all of the above, as well as all the sly jokes that go over the kid's heads. If you don't know or care anything about Jeffrey Katzenberg's feud with his former employers, it won't hinder your enjoyment in the slightest. Grade: A-
The Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is reunited with the lovesick Dragon in Dreamworks' Shrek - 2001
Shrek is rated PG for mild bathroom humor.
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