review by Elias Savada, 18 May 2001

The millennium's first great animated classic has been born. From the belly of a jolly, ugly/beautiful green beast bursts forth a bold and sassy gem of a comedy aimed at children of all ages. A mean, not-so-lean, fightin' machine sent into a fantastical rendered world from the Dreamworks factory has invaded the countryside and not a fairy-tale creature is left unscathed or unfractured by the wit and wisecracking luminescence imbued by the screenwriters (Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Joe Stillman & Roger S. H. Schulman) on the children's book of the same name by William Steig. Covering this comic nutty center is an eye-popping digital world rendered with jaw-dropping, state-of-the-art reality. What a delicious treat!

A rousing road trip that traipses about its freshly drawn clever clever land and tosses darts at the heralded conventions of Grimm, Perrault, and, (Don't sue me!) Disney, Shrek still manages to browbeat a few moral lessons out of its lifelike characters. Vanity: bad. Inner beauty: good. Uncle Walt's small world does get some light-hearted drubbing at the mercy of the competitive forces across town, with nuanced pokes at a handful of those mouse-infested traditional creations and the parking lot that surrounds them.

But let's not dwell on the barbed negatives that only a few cinephiles, studio execs, and industry insiders might fully understand, especially when there's so much positive energy, compressed into a briskly paced ninety minutes, on which to radiate -- enough to power California to its continuing power crisis for the rest of the summer. You brim with feel-good spirit from the lyrical "Once upon a time" opening through the rousing end-credit celebration where the entire cast (with an assist from Smash Mouth) belts out Neil Diamond's I'm a Believer. The film gleefully borrows recent cinematic conventions (those slo-mo shots from The Matrix among them) and dialogue (Babe's "That'll do, pig. That'll do."), and skewers tag team wrestling (complete with the standard folding-chair bashing) for WWF fans. Nothing is sacred in this make believe world, but there's an abundant slyness within the deserved PG rating. By necessity there are jokes that only an aging baby boomer—i.e., those of us who remember The Dating Game—might appreciate in their intended context. Youngsters weaned on the Rugrats and other topical television-then-feature inventions will find more than enough humor to fill a year's worth of Happy Meals.

Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson handle every aspect of the production with such determined yet riotous conviction, you wouldn't believe this is the first feature either of them has helmed. It immediately rises to the level of both Toy Story films and A Bug's Life as best-of-the-best prototypical CGI entertainment. They and their hundreds of accomplished artists and technicians have created such a realistically fantastic world that you can feel the sun on the character's faces, marvel as the landscape bristles in a light breeze, melt from the red-hot heat of a lava-filled moat, and truly believe every computer generated facial expression. And just to show off how much fun they had putting this masterpiece together, they add lens glare as the "camera" pans up into the daylight. There is genius at work here.

And don't you dare belittle the contribution of the vocal talent! Mike Myers strikes post-Austin Powers gold with his Scottish lilt as the eponymous fearless ogre with repressed yearnings for Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), an enlightened damsel in distress, a nighttime secret, and a voice that will strike fear into any bluebird (in a bit that had a dozen critics rolling in the aisles at an early press screening). A high-spirited Eddie Murphy (back next month in the flesh as Dr. Dolittle 2) as the loquacious Donkey sidekick embroiders his ingratiate-me-PLEEZ bravado that animated the character of Mushu the Dragon in Disney's Mulan. And television's favorite alien John Lithgow may be heading back to his home planet after six seasons, but he puts in a shamefully self-depreciating spin as the pint-sized Prince Farquaad, whose standing is the focus of a handful of zingers ("Men of his stature are in short supply.")

As the selfish villain, he'll obviously meet his match with the wily Shrek, but an early torture sequence of The Gingerbread Man—framed with a mock Marine's flinty sensibilities—shows off the ruler's natural shortsightedness. The cookie character's legs lay crumbled, but his resolve strengthened. "Eat me!" he screams at his persecutors, before segueing into a "Do you know the Muffin Man?" variation on the Who's on First? Abbott and Costello routine.

Simple-minded Shrek treasures his solitude deep in the CGI rendered woods. Whether cheerfully reading in his out house, squeezing out a flatulent bubble or two during a contented-as-a-pig mud shower, or plucking out a candleful of ear wax to adorn his dining-room table, here is someone who capriciously deals with any form of interruption in routine with a belly laugh of bad breath, an imposing presence, dim-witted naïveté, and low-level scare tactics. When his swamp yard becomes the camping ground for hundreds of displaced magical fairyland characters, Shrek and Donkey pace off for the vertically-constrained prince's oversized, souvenir-ensconced Castle Duloc and get bamboozled into fetching a suitable wife for Farquaad's own dastardly needs. On the road again (as Donkey prances about with frisky indifference to the danger ahead), all sort of comic misadventure welcomes the pair and then threesome after they rescue the fair Fiona from the penthouse suite of her dragon-guarded castle. The return trip finds them ambushed by Robin Hood and his band of all-singing, all-dancing merry man. To further enhance the sideshow-like atmosphere of the whole undertaking, a wayward frog and snake become circus balloons, floating up in disconcerted amusement.

Want a great taste of comedy in a large frothy glass? Take a great green gulp of Shrek and savor the moment.

Long live Shrek!

Directed by:
Andrew Adamson
Vicky Jenson

Starring (the voices of):
Mike Myers
Eddie Murphy
Cameron Diaz
John Lithgow

Written by:
Ted Elliott
Terry Rossio
Joe Stillman
Roger S. H. Schulman

PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material may not be suitable for children







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