Directed by Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson Writing
credits William Steig (book), Ted Elliott Cast: Mike Myers
.... Shrek (voice), Eddie Murphy .... The Donkey, Cameron Diaz ....
Princess Fiona, John Lithgow .... Lord Farquaad
won me over, but it had to work for it I've gotten weary of pointless
screen adaptations of cartoons, comics, and fairytales. I've even gotten
weary of John Lithgow thanks to his character on Third Rock from the
Sun, and the notion of him playing a pompous ruler trying to compensate
for his lack of stature left me cold. Cameron Diaz, but only on that
audio track? Mike Meyers as a smelly green ogre? Eddie Murphy as a
donkey? Ok. Maybe Meyers and Murphy.
Then I saw the trailer. Maybe, I said to myself, maybe they know what they are doing. Maybe that's an understatement.
Based on a children's book by William Steig in the way these sorts of things are always based, which is to say, loosely, Shrek is pretty much the fractured fairy tale to end all fractured fairy tales.
Our boy Shrek, a happy go lucky Ogre who lives in the swamp, finds that his peace and quiet have been shattered by an invasion of refugee fairy tale folk, starting with a donkey, which we come to affectionately know as "donkey". Voiced by Eddie Murphy in one of the best roles of his life, Donkey is more Tigger than Eeyore and although a talking donkey may be unusual even in the land of Duloc, it's shutting him up that takes real magic. The fairy folk have all been driven out of their homes by the ruler of Duloc, voiced by Lithgow, whose castle is a chilling recreation of a Disney theme park.
You may love this movie, but Disney may not. Shrek takes shot after shot at the fairy tale money machine created by Walt, and I found myself asking if they weren't violating about a million copyright laws with their send-ups of Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood and others. I slapped myself when I suddenly remembered the fairy tales have been around since long before Disney. Nobody owns fairy tales, unless they've actually made them up on their own, like Shrek.
Shrek strikes a deal with the ruler of Dulok, promising to rescue a maiden from her dragon guarded captivity in order to get the quiet of his swamp back. Rescue her he does, and the usual complications follow when a hero rescues a damsel, no matter how ugly he appears, nor how beautiful she seems.
Mike Meyers does a great job of cobbling together Canadian, Scot, and Eastern European accents to create Shrek's unique accent. I sat there scratching my head trying to figure it out in the theater...and eventually gave up and just enjoyed it. I also loved Murphy as Donkey...but who could resist him? And Ms. Diaz is a babe no matter how she's drawn, and possesses a great sense of comic timing besides.
Everything is done to perfection, even the CGI, which has a vaguely Jerry Anderson look to it, making one think that DreamWorks would be the perfect house to create the Thunderbirds or Fireball XL-5. DreamWorks didn't try to create "real" people, but clearly animated fantasy characters with their own style. I'm sure there are computer scientists, animators and mathematicians all over the globe paying more attention to the modeling of flames and fluids, the ultimate test of computer animation, but the story deserves their real attention. For the most part, it will get it, since the script by Ted Elliott is hilarious, witty, thoughtful and touching. It's also a bit vengeful.
Shrek is bound to have a tremendous impact on how children view fantasy, and raises cynicism to new heights. I know it's funny, well crafted and brilliantly acted. I get the inner beauty story line. I just can't watch my childhood heroes ground into the dirt without a little sadness.
In it's own way, Shrek's message is just as biased as the one it seeks to un-throne.
You'll love Shrek. Your kids will love Shrek. I even love Shrek. Shrek will rake in godzillions (a monstrous amount of money) at the box office, video store, and through promotional deals. But there's fairy tale blood on that money. When dreams die, clapping won't bring them back.
And while we're at it, ask yourself where the untrustworthy ruler of Duloc plans to put the fairy tale creatures when he clears them out of the swamp?