Once upon a time a solitary ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers) was really annoyed to discover that his swamp had been invaded by three blind mice, seven dwarves and all the other fairy tale characters in the land, banished from their home by Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Unwittingly befriended by a non-stop talking donkey (Eddie Murphy), Shrek travels to Dulloc to speak with Farquaad, where he stumbles into a joust and comes up the winner. His prize? To save Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a tower surrounded by molten flame and protected by a dragon so she can become Farquaad's bride. The ogre agrees to the task in return for getting his solitary lifestyle back in "Shrek."Laura:
It took four writers (Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio ("The Road to El Dorado"), Roger S.H. Schulman ("Balto") and Joe Stillman ("Beavis and Butthead Do America")) to adapt William Steig's children's book. The bad news? They've genericized an already simple plotline while heavily under the influence of William Goldman's "The Princess Bride." The good news? There's so much wacky humor culled from both fairy tales and popular culture that this movie should keep you in stitches.
We get our first inkling that we're in for a real treat as one of Farquaad's men, intent on rounding up magical creatures offers 'Five schillings for the possessed boy!' after observing Dreamworks' rendition of Disney's animated Pinocchio. Meanwhile within the castle walls, a gingerbread man being tortured by Farquaad spits icing and yells 'Eat me!' before breaking down and solemnly asking 'Do you know the muffin man?'
Shrek, a green giant with bobbly antennae-like ears, is a grumpy recluse who really yearns to fit in (although who could put up with his habit of making candles from his own ear wax?). Donkey is a hyperactive, endearingly stunted creature who can talk and, therefore, believes will make a great misfit pairing with the uncooperative Shrek. Donkey proves his worth sweet talking the princess-guarding dragon. The Princess proves to be more than a shade offbeat after learning she's not getting the fairy tale issue rescue she's been expecting. When Fiona's true colors are exposed (including opportunities for some tomboyish gross out humor), a spark develops between her and Shrek.
The script's details are gleefully impish, constantly poking fun at Disney from the theme park world of Farquaad's Dulloc with its turnstyle entrance and 'It's a Small World' parody of an information booth to the blue bird which meets a most un-Disneyish fate after duetting with Fiona 'Snow White' style. Popular culture is represented with film references to "Babe" and "Charlies' Angels" via "The Matrix."
Myers chooses his 'So I Married an Axe Murderer' Scottish brogue for Shrek in order to give his voice some heft. While this may prove distracting for anyone familiar with that film, overall it works more than not. Eddie Murphy steals the show as the fast-talking, Motown-singing Donkey, proving once again his talent as a vocal performer (is it another wink at Disney that Donkey is paired with a dragon, a creature Murphy portrayed in Disney's 'Mulan?'). Lithgow's a good choice for the supercilious, height-challenged villain Lord Farquaad. Diaz is energetic but ultimately nondescript voicing Princess Fiona. (A better choice would have been Minnie Driver, who's proven herself a terrific vocal talent in such diverse animations as Disney's "Tarzan," "Princess Mononoke" and the "South Park" movie.)
The computer animation looks terrific (particularly Donkey), although it won't elicit the types of oohs and aahs of Pixar's work ("Toy Story," "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2"). In keeping with its hip style, pop music is used, which like Myer's voice may be initially jarring, but ultimately satisfies (while surveying bridal candidates via a 'Dating Game' parody broadcast by Snow White's Evil Queen's mirror, Farquaad is told 'Fiona likes pina coladas' - cue Jimmy Buffet!).
"Shrek" has good lessons for kids and humor targeted at every age group in the family. While it may be derivative of the 1987's "The Princess Bride," "Shrek" addresses a new generation with similar sensibilities and doesn't suffer in the comparison.
An ogre is supposed to be a big meanie who grinds men's bones into flour for his bread, but Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) is not your average ogre. He just wants to be left in peace when, one day, all the creatures from fairytale land end up in his front yard, evicted by the selfish, egotistical Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). To get their land (and his privacy) back, Shrek agrees to undertake the quest to rescue beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a fire-breathing dragon in the all-computer animated "Shrek."
DreamWorks Pictures made a valiant first effort, a couple of years ago, to go toe-to-toe with the Disney anime machine with "Antz." It was a nice job, but soundly and quickly topped by Disney's "A Bug's Life." Now, the newcomers have done their homework and have created a funny fairytale, in "Shrek," that rivals the best of the veteran animation giant.
"Shrek" is, on the surface, an oft-told, conventional fairytale about a knight-errant sent by his lord to rescue the beautiful princess. Along the way, the knight and princess fall in love and live happily ever after. That's where the convention ends and a witty, fast-paced comedy/romance, with an excellent vocal cast and first rate CGI, kicks in. The story is told from the monster's point of view, a la John Garner's Beowulf satire, "Grendel," and our ogre, Shrek, is a likable hero figure right from the start.
Shrek is a loner content with his solitude and he resents the intrusion when the displaced fairytale land inhabitants arrive at his doorstep. All of the familiar 'tale characters are represented, from the three little pigs to the three bears. The cartoon icons are used to extreme comic effect, often poking particular fun at the rival Disney. At one point, a magic mirror (sound familiar?) not only shows who is the fairest of them all, it gives a dating game spin on the choice with Cinderella, Snow White and Princess Fiona up for grabs by Lord Farquaad.
The greedy, short of stature lord has ambitions to be king of all the land, but needs the hand, in matrimony, of a princess to legitimately land the job. He selects the beautiful Fiona to be his bride. The only rub is, the princess is held captive, under a spell, in a castle, guarded by a giant fire-breathing dragon. When Shrek arrives at Lord Farquaad's palace to get rid of the ousted fairytale land creatures, he proves to be the man, I mean, the ogre to take on the rescue mission.
Shrek is aided in his quest by an unlikely sidekick, a chubby little donkey named Donkey. Eddie Murphy provides the voice of the diminutive Donkey and proves himself, again, to be one of the best voice artists in the business. He (and the cadre of script writers) puts a contemporary spin on the little, four-legged, floppy eared character that reps the high points of comedy in "Shrek." His sassy, fast talking delivery of one-liners will amuse the youngsters and please the adults.
Murphy gets the most yuks in the film, but the rest of the talent put their own imprint on the characters. The title character, Shrek, voiced with a charming Scottish burr by Myers, is a grumpy, yet really nice, ogre who grudgingly becomes the brave knight sent to save the princess. He overcomes every obstacle, including the fire-belching dragon - which turns out to be a lady dragon with amorous eyes for Donkey. Diaz gives a yeoman's effort in voicing Princess Fiona, but she doesn't convey the dimension that a more experienced vocal actor might deliver. Who can forget Cruela De Vil (voice of Betty Lou Gerson) in "101 Dalmatians"? John Lithgow gives a terrifically snide performance as Lord Farquaad and makes his bad guy really, really unlikable. His just desserts are well deserved.
The computer gen'd animation is as detailed as anything the other guys have done, though the under-wattage projector at our screening made things look murky. At least, I hope it was the projector. There is a cast of thousands (well, hundreds) as almost every fairytale you can think of gets a bit of air time, and all of it is done with humor and charm.
The funny screenplay - penned by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Roger S.H. Schulman and Joe Stillman - is based on William Steig kids' picture book, Shrek. The quartet of writers may or may not have been faithful to the book but they certainly have carved a niche that could turn into a franchise. Co-directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson muster their vocal artists, writers and technical crew to deliver a special film that is most definitely for kids of all ages.
There are so many in-jokes and general mirth in "Shrek," you need to view it more than once for the full effect. I plan on seeing it again and give it an A.
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