Shrek (2001)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 5/18/01
Based On A Story By: William Steig
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

Dreamworks might actually have their first animated hit, after the lukewarm receptions received by their previous efforts, "Prince Of Egypt" and "Road To El Dorado." If their overly aggressive marketing machine doesn't destroy it first, that is... "Shrek" is a back-to-basics fairy tale adventure that's both cute and charming, and depressing and mean-spirited (much like any of Pixar's films). Loosely based on a story by William Steig (author of such childhood classics as "Dominic" and "Abel's Island"), it's a tale of prejudice and discrimination, society's outcasts, and the illusions and heartbreak of true love. All thinly wrapped in a bittersweet candy coating with a happy ending, of course. Shrek (Mike Myers) is an ogre who merrily lives out his existence of solitude in a slimy swamp. But his life is turned upside down when fairy tale creatures throughout the land are forced by the pompous Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) to relocate from their happy homes to Shrek's swamp. Infuriated, Shrek and his newfound companion (a loud mouthed talking donkey played by Eddie Murphy) go to Lord Farquaad to straighten the mess out. Farquaad is obsessed with himself and his perfect kingdom and is desperately seeking a bride, so instead of killing Shrek, he sends him on a quest to rescue the fair maiden Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a fierce fire-breathing dragon. Upon completion of the mission, Shrek's swamp will be returned to him and the other inhabitants moved elsewhere. Shrek and Donkey manage to rescue the princess, who is none too pleased to find out that her champion is not Prince Charming, which sets all of our heroes down the long and rocky road to heartbreak and disillusionment. But everything turns out okay in the end.

The computer animation is first rate. The environments are so convincing that you don't even realize that they're not real. Sadly, the best compliment you can give a special effects artist is that you never even noticed their work. The voice talent is very good, although Eddie Murphy's character seemed all too reminiscent of Mushu from Disney's "Mulan" (1998). Maybe on purpose? One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that it ruthlessly and viciously lampoons a large number of Disney properties, including Disneyland itself. Adults will certainly get a kick out of identifying all of the classic Disney characters that show up in the film. It's also curious that the first half of the film is almost entirely devoted to deconstructing the traditional fairy tale archetypes and storytelling model, only to completely succumb to them in the second half. The biggest problem with the film is in the music department. Almost all of the music in the film is inappropriate, and sometimes downright annoying. I really think they should have stuck with a conventional music model for the film, but maybe that's just me being stuffy and prude. Overall, a fun outing with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It's smart enough for adults to enjoy and has enough farting and belching to keep the kids happy.