Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
Shrek is a marvel of high-tech computer animation, old-fashioned story-telling, and modern-day humor. Its success is so thorough, even its animated human characters are more lifelike than the real humans in the dreadfully overblown and cartoonish The Mummy Returns.
Make no mistake, this is an adult movie, but parents shouldn't have too much difficulty in dragging their kids along for the ride.
Once Upon a Time
Shrek (Mike Myers, Austin Powers) is a mean, green ogre; he takes mud showers, gives new meaning to the term "bathroom reading," converts his own earwax into candles, and cuts farts so potent they kill the fish with which he bathes. He loves his solitude and he is put on edge when all the land's fairy tale characters (everybody from the Three Blind Mice, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, and on and on and on) are banished to his humble turf by an evil lord.
That lord, Farquaad (John Lithgow, 3rd Rock from the Sun), is a little man with a Napoleon complex. He has cleansed Duloc, his imposing castle/amusement park, of all the non-humans and the otherwise normal-challenged. (That Gestapo-like operation adds a bit of social commentary to the film's otherwise light-hearted spirit.)
In an attempt to restore the serenity of his swamp, Shrek, along with his not-so-welcome friend, Donkey (Eddie Murphy, Bowfinger), pays a visit to Farquaad. They bargain and Shrek is promised the return of his swamp rights if he rescues Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz, There's Something About Mary) from the fire-breathing dragon.
Art Imitating Life
What follows is a rather traditional story of the cranky ogre making good by saving the princess, but it is so imaginatively told, and with such unabashedly adult sensibilities and humor, that this movie transcends typical animated fare and takes on a life of its own.
The animation is flawless: The princess' gown ruffles as she moves and Shrek lopes along the hillside as if he were real flesh and blood.
There are stories circulating that the animation for the princess was so lifelike that they had to "tone it down" so she would appear to be "simply" an animated character. Whether that's only hype from DreamWorks or the honest-to-gosh truth will remain a mystery (unless that footage is presented on the inevitable collector's edition DVD). What is on the screen, however, is captivating and magical.
Adding to the fun, of course, are the voices of Myers and Murphy; they play their roles with gusto. Myers pulls a Scottish brogue that's a little less gruff than his fat Scotsman from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Murphy obviously enjoys being able to act like an ass again.
Try a Little Tenderness
While based on the children's book by William Steig, the humor in Shrek the movie is more akin to what's found in Mad magazine. Smart and sassy, Shrek has a lot more edge than anything Disney's ever produced. It's cheeky, Baby, very cheeky, and gleefully so.
There are a multitude of references, not only to fairy tales, but also to today's pop culture. It's hard to find fault with a movie that can so deftly spoof Robin Hood, Riverdance, and The Matrix all in the same scene. Those visual gags and surprises are plentiful and the movie doesn't drag. Even when it turns dramatic, it's still a wonder to behold.
It's been ages since a movie has had so little to nit-pick about and it would take a real grinch to not enjoy it. The weirdest thing in this production about ogres and talking donkeys is the choice of musical accompaniment. Was Smash Mouth's All Star the best choice for an opening song? Probably not, but it does set the tone and the remainder of the movie reverts to primarily classic rock tunes to help amp up its attitude.
Midway through, the anticipation starts to build for a terribly sappy ending. Happily, that's not the case. Instead of copping out with a Beauty and the Beast-style "beautiful people rule" ending, Shrek takes its own course and ends on the same high note with which it starts.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.