Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Writer: Joe Stilman, Roger S.H. Schulman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Once upon a time in a land of wonders, a fair maiden named Fiona was cursed and confined in the tallest tower of a castle guarded by a fire-breathing red dragon, waiting for a brave knight to come on his noble steed to slay the dragon and save her with true love’s first kiss. Meanwhile, in the depths of a swamp lives Shrek, a big scary ogre with green skin and trumpets for ears. He likes his mud baths, his gooey feasts and his solitude, and that’s that until his privacy is invaded by three little pigs, Snow White and the seven dwarves, blind mice, the big bad wolf, Pinnochio… Turns out that the diminutive Lord Farquaad doesn’t like fairy tale characters, and he put bounties on their colorful heads before banning them to the ogre’s swamp. Not good, thinks Shrek, not good at all, so he has a talking donkey take him to Farquaad’s palace to let him know it. The would-be king of Duloc strikes a deal with the not so jolly green giant: let him bring Princess Fiona for him to marry, and he will have his swamp back. And so begins the “ogre-knight” success story of Shrek…
“Shrek” is the movie in which Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg gets back at Disney, the company he helped to grow into the major player it is before they sacked him. The movie pokes fun at the fairy tales as Americanized by Mickey’s posse, it spoofs the Magic Kingdom theme parks and, supposedly, the evil Farquaad resembles Michael Eisner (to me, he looks like John Lithgow, who does the voice). Yet I think the biggest coup is how good the movie is, much better than any Disney movie of recent years. First off, it’s technically absolutely brilliant. Forget nifty 3D toys and bugs, and behold a world vast and alive with life-like landscapes. This has to be a new CGI milestone, the way technology can now create faces so expressive and movement so fluid.
Yet even with the most striking visuals in the world, a movie wouldn’t really succeed without a good story, which “Shrek” has, though it isn’t clear a first. Sure, there’s fun in the premise of a self-conscious fairy tale, mixing adventure and satire, but the film really got me when it eased up a bit on the cynicism and proved to have a big heart after all. Subversive AND feel-good, now there’s a combination you don’t see everyday, but there you have it. For all their wisecracking and snickering, in the end we really get to care for Shrek, Donkey and Fiona, thanks to strong writing and superior voice talent. That’s Mike Myers doing a variation on his beloved Scottish accent as Shrek, the ogre with “layers like an onion”. As the film’s protagonist, it’s important that we somehow like him despite his freaky look. Sure he’s ugly, scary… Rude, gross… But he soon reveals himself as a hero and a big softy, aware of his alienation even though he puts up an indifferent facade. Here’s a guy who prefers to isolate himself rather than be isolated, to reject before being rejected.
Then Donkey comes along, who shares with Eddie Murphy not only a voice but an attitude. Through the film’s first act, we see him mostly as comic relief, the sidekick who jokes around, bursts into songs (only to be shut up by Shrek). But gradually, we see that he’s not the one who’s an ass, really. Shrek keeps pushing him away, and he keeps coming back, waiting for the big green dude to understand that he doesn’t care what he looks like. He likes him, he accepts and does not judge. He’s a friend! And here I am crying, a single man in a theater full of little kids. But don’t think this is a tearjerker, maybe it’s just me who’s sensitive. I like guy-guy action movies, but I also like chick flick romances, and “Shrek” can be both. Take the character of Princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz. She’s hardly your usual damsel in distress! She has Diaz’ easygoing, slightly tomboyish ways. She’s an idealistic girl looking for her Prince Charming, but she can be one of the guys and kick some ass too; wait until you see her going wire-fu on Robin Hood and his Merry men!
“Shrek” is great family entertainment, a movie that’s not above the occasional fart joke yet one that also sometimes surpass your expectations by doing something quite extraordinary like doing a montage on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah instead of using a corny Phil Collins song or whatnot. Take the kids or go by yourself, you’ll have a good time.