May 31, 2001 -- "Shrek" is more than just a dazzling technical achievement in state-of-the art digital animation, it is a witty, clever, charming romantic comedy about heroism, love and friendship. It's timeless story will live on long after its digital animation techniques have become dated.
The title character, an ogre hermit living in a swamp (voice by Mike Myers of the Austin Powers films), is an unlikely hero. He accidentally acquires a talking donkey sidekick (voice by Eddie Murphy of "Bowfinger") when he saves the donkey from soldiers. The two form an uneasy partnership. The two set off on a journey to free a princess from a castle guarded by a dragon. Shrek agrees to do this only to get his swamp back from an invading army of fairy tale characters, banished there by the evil, but short, Lord Farquaad (voice by John Lithgow of "Rugrats in Paris").
Shrek is a very unlikely hero and Princess Fiona (voice by Cameron Diaz of "Charlie's Angels") is not exactly what you'd expect from a princess, either. Shrek is a reluctant hero, scarred by years of hatred, but his heart is still in the right place. He is also fiercely independent and noble in his own way. It is a standard fairy tale, but everything is slanted slightly. Characters from familiar Disney movies, like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" are skewered in the film. There is a tortured gingerbread man, a lying Pinocchio and a lot of in-jokes about well-known cartoon characters. There are fresh elements to the story, which has some of the same dark edge as classic stories like some of the original Grimm's Fairy Tales, but it takes shots at those stories, too. One funny bit, involving an exploding bird, is a good example. The way the story takes a funny angle on classic fairy tales reminds me a little of "The Princess Bride."
The film has tremendous digital animation. In one scene, you can see the individual hairs being "blown" back by the blast of air from Shrek. The dragon in the film is a magnificent-looking creation. According to film production notes: "Using special tools called 'Shapers,' the animators were able to achieve sophisticated facial and body movements by applying interacting layers of bone, muscle, fat, skin, hair and clothing. There are also advances in the creation of rich, organic environments; clothing that moves, wrinkles and reacts to light like real-life fabric; fire; and fluids of different viscosities, achieved using PDI/DreamWorks' award-winning Fluid Animation System (FLU)."
Although Shrek is the hero, Eddie Murphy's comic talents are the heart and soul of this film. His sassy "smart ass" demeanor is the perfect foil for Shrek's straight man. He carries much of the comic burden of the film and he carries it with style. In his own way, Murphy dominates the movie the same way Robin Williams did in "Aladdin." The screenplay, by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman, based on the book by William Steig, is very well conceived. Unfortunately, there are some gross-out elements in the film. The flatulence, and other crude jokes aren't anywhere nearly as disgusting as they were in the last "Austin Powers" movie, but they are annoying. Otherwise, it is a great movie, it rates a B+.
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