A twisted fairy tale
It is safe to say that I never expected to see an animated movie aimed at youngsters featuring a moment when its title character fashions a dinner candle out of his earwax.
This moment performed by Shrek, the almost lovable and always fun-to-watch green ogre at the center of the latest computer animated movie gem, is a nice indicator of the twisted mentality that makes this film so enjoyable and wickedly strange.
What you get with Shrek is the second film in two weeks (after A Knight’s Tale) that provides the sort of easy fun that makes summer movie-going a gas (and it’s not even summer yet). It also temporarily takes the mantle of best-looking, all-CGI animated feature, surpassing the likes of Toy Story and A Bug’s Life in the appearance category. From the lush countryside that Shrek roams through, to the amazing, textured faces on each of its characters, Shrek is a stunning achievement.
Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) lives peacefully on his land next to Lord Farquaad (say that fast, and it’s certainly not a word that should be in a kid’s film). Farquaad (voice of John Lithgow) evicts a swath of fairytale characters from his kingdom, including the seven dwarfs hauling a dead Snow White around in her glass casket. When the “squatters” wind up on Shrek’s land, he cuts a deal with the Lord: Rescue Princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) from the castle, where she is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, and his land will be cleared of fairytale refugees.
So Shrek hits the road, accompanied by a wisecracking donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy, having tons of fun). They encounter the dragon, which has a soft spot for donkeys, and rescue the Princess so that she can marry Farquaad. Things then get complicated, and quite adorable, as Shrek finds a soft spot for the lady, and the movie provides a touching, offbeat romance.
The film features truly great vocal performances from its cast, including Myers’ Shrek, although he sounds not unlike his Fat Bastard from Austin Powers. (I was waiting for Shrek to look at his donkey friend and say, “Wait a minute … you sorta look like a baby. Get in my belly!) Murphy is putting together a nice second career as a voice-over man, having already done a dragon in Disney’s Mulan. He has somehow managed to achieve a new social status where it would be shocking to hear him say the “F” word.
Speaking of Disney, it’s fun to see a movie willing to take aim at that particular empire and be ruthless with its barbs. Shrek is produced by Dreamworks, where former Disney honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg is a partner. Katzenberg left Disney under bad circumstances, and the film pokes fun at the likes of Peter Pan and Pinocchio, and even finds a way to lampoon the long lines at the theme parks.
Shrek marks the second time in just a few weeks where barriers are broken in the kid’s film market, after the breakthrough of Spy Kids. It looks like studios may have temporarily figured out that children can handle a little satire and intelligence in the story mix, and Shrek gives the kids plenty to talk about the next day at school. While its sense of humor is a bit sick in places, a kid will get far more mind-warping material out of a one-hour session of afternoon television.
So prepare to laugh and have your eyes tantalized and massaged. Shrek qualifies as a classic animated movie, and one of the more charming films to grace screens in a long time.