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Rated 3.01 stars
by 2482 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Good Time with an Ogre, a Donkey, and a Princess
by Jeffrey Chen

This was a pleasant surprise. I didn't expect Shrek, Dreamworks new computer-animated feature, to be this funny nor charming. It managed to be both while simultaneously displaying a good visual style and giving a little twist to your usual fairy-tale-with-a-moral.

The movie is a wry fairy tale set in the land of fairy tales. Fanciful characters from famous stories and nursery rhymes inhabit parts of a large kingdom. One of these creatures is Shrek, a large green ogre given an Irish accent by Mike Myers. He's got quite a few gross habits, likes living alone, and likes to scare away trespassers with his hideous presence. One day, all the fairy tale people, from Pinocchio to the Three Little Pigs, are rounded up by the men of the kingdom's surveyor, the rather mean-spirited Lord Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow). One of the would-be captives, a talking donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) escapes and then takes refuge with a reluctant Shrek, who is quite annoyed by his motor-mouthed visitor. Eventually, circumstances put the two together as partners in a quest to save Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) from the castle of a vicious fire-breathing dragon.

Shrek features the usual standards for a big-screen fairy tale: adventure, romance, and laughs. The nice thing about the movie is its playfully irreverent attitude. For instance, it has a grand old time poking numerous humorous jabs at Disney. Yet, even as often as it does this, it takes a cue from the recent Disney animated films in the style of its humor; you could say the humor is Aladdin-like, with an extra little step taken toward gross-out humor. Most of the comedy mileage is gotten from the rapport between Myer's Shrek and Murphy's donkey. I don't know what it is about Eddie Murphy. He does the same essential routine as he does in Mulan, yet it's still as funny as ever.

The movie also manages to take fairy tale conventions and turn them on their heads, and not only through its direct parodies of many beloved familiar characters. To talk about this some more would mean spoiling some of the storyline. Well, let's just say it doesn't follow the usual straight-line we're all used to in fairy tales. Watch what happens to the dragon. Watch how the princess ultimately carries herself around Shrek and other would-be saviors. And then there is, of course, the main storyline. Yes, you can see the ending coming, but you've got to like the message it's sending.

I think one of the only things I would have to lament about is the treatment of Lord Farquaad and his, well, height problem. The movie almost gets as much mileage out of shortness jokes as it does out of donkey's silly jabbering. For a story which is ultimately about not judging others by their appearances, why is it so easy to make fun of the villain's stature? Yes, he is a wicked guy, but the short jokes are easy targets. That's a little disppointing in my book, although I am more inclined to tilt my head and give the movie-makers a scolding look rather than raise a lot of noise about it. "You can do better than that next time," I could say. I had one other beef which had to do with a plot convention that involves a misunderstanding, but it's relatively minor. The movie's strengths do outweigh its weaknesses in the end.

Technically, the movie is pleasing to look at and is a computer-animation achievement on par with the works of Pixar. It might be interesting to note that more than one person thought that the dragon's castle looked like something out of "Super Mario," but overall I was really impressed with the backgrounds and the character animations. Shrek and the donkey, in particular, are really well-animated. I'm not sure that I liked the human characters being portrayed the way they were, that is, leaning more toward realistic-looking rather than obviously cartoonish. Sometimes, they looked kind of funny to me that way, stuck in the limbo zone between animated and real people. I would say, though, that it worked pretty well within the visual style of the movie, and that's what counted.

It's fair to say that Shrek is great fun overall, and it is recommended as a movie that adults will easily enjoy every bit as much as the kids, maybe even more so. It contains pleasant twists to very familiar storylines, and they are welcome. It's also quite funny and powered with lively computer-animation and some modern well-known music. Put it all together and it's easy to say that Shrek is a solidly good time.

©Jeffrey Chen, May 22, 2001

(Released by Dreamworks and rated “PG” for mild language and some crude humor.)

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