A world in which all fairy tale creatures co-habitate with humans, Shrek (Mike Myers) is a lonely, green ogre whom everyone fears. Living in a quaint cottage by a swamp, he is distressed to discover that the fairy tale creatures, including the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, the Three Blind Mice, and Pinocchio, have all been rounded up in his backyard, under the direct orders of Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). In an attempt to get his land back, Shrek journeys to the theme park-like castle in the town of Duloc to talk to Lord Farquaad, with blabbermouth Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow. Since Lord Farquaad can't become King until he marries a princess, he agrees to give Shrek his land back, in exchange for rescuing the feisty Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who is locked away in another castle, guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, and bringing her back to him.
The second computer-generated animated film from Dreamworks (with the first being the disappointing 1998 movie, "Antz"), "Shrek" is a dazzling display of creative artistry and sheer imagination. With animated characters never looking so flesh-and-blood before (at least until "Final Fantasy" is released later this summer), the movie is nonstop candy for the eyes, with a palette of bright colors jumping off the screen, and a round-up of central characters who are not only likable, but also memorable and enchanting.
With a PG rating, for some admittedly racy material for a family film, "Shrek" is an ideal viewing experience for both children and grown-ups alike. There is humor throughout that kids will be able to thoroughly enjoy, but also a constant slew of jokes that will have the adults rolling (if my theater of mostly over-15's is any indication). When Lord Farquaad, for example, is deciding on a princess to marry, he is presented by the Mirror from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" with three contestants, a 'la "The Dating Game"--Cinderella, Snow White, and Fiona. About Snow White, the mirror says in its best TV-personality voice, "...and although she may live with seven men, she's not easy!" Fiona, meanwhile, "enjoys sipping pina colatas and taking long walks in the rain." And when Fiona is the lucky winner of the contest, the song, "If You Like Pina Colatas," bursts onto the soundtrack. "Shrek" is the funniest animated film since Trey Parker's outrageous, R-rated 1999 feature, "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut."
Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, based on the children's book by William Steig, delight in showing off their fast, zippy, satirical dialogue, and have a lot of fun playing with fairy tale conventions. Nearly every fairy tale creature you can think of makes some sort of cameo here, as does the actual Disneyland theme park, cleverly disguised as Lord Farquaad's living quarter. Another rib-tickling moment comes when the Gingerbread Man is being tortured by Lord Farquaad, in an attempt to get information out of him. With Lord Farquaad's constant taunting and his own leg torn off and lying next to him on the baking sheet, the Gingerbread Man sarcastically exclaims, "Eat me!"
The voice work from all four principals is wonderful. Mike Myers develops Shrek into a lovable ogre who is tired of being feared, and just a little bit lonelier than he outwardly appears. Eddie Murphy is hysterical as Donkey, an ass who can't ever seem to shut up, but forms a nice friendship with Shrek. Cameron Diaz cleverly gives Princess Fiona a bit of punch by portraying her much like her butt-kicking, live-action character in 2000's "Charlie's Angels." And John Lithgow also amuses as the very short Lord Farquaad. Remarking about the monstrous size of his castle, Donkey proclaims, "A castle that big must mean he's compensating for something."
Aside from a ten-minute section at the start of the third act, in which a misunderstanding between two characters brings added conflict, and briefly turns the movie into a tedious one, "Shrek" is a fabulous, unadulterated entertainment, and comes back just in time for a winning finale. Word is that there are already plans for a "Shrek 2," and that's fine with me. There is a great deal of unchartered territory that this first picture doesn't even begin to scrape, and undoubtedly more adventures for Shrek to go on. Whatever the case is with the rumored sequel, one thing is for sure: "Shrek" is a magical film not to be missed on the big-screen, by anyone. A new animated classic has been born.
©2001 by Dustin Putman