At the Movies: 'Shrek'
By Christy Lemire
AP Entertainment Writer
|"Shrek" is rated PG for mild language and some crude humor. It has four screenwriters, three producers, two directors (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson) and a partridge in a pear tree. Running time: 89 minutes.|
"Shrek" would still make a ton of money, purely through summer blockbuster hype. It is more than movie; with its kids' meal toys and product tie-ins, it is a self-contained marketing juggernaut.
Having said that, there is plenty to write about this animated fairy tale, some of which is positive.
Mike Myers is clearly having a blast giving his voice to Shrek, a green, oafish ogre with a Scottish brogue. So are Eddie Murphy as a talking donkey named Donkey and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona, whom they rescue from a castle complete with a moat of bubbling lava and a fire-breathing dragon. And John Lithgow steals the show, as always, as the scheming, power-hungry Lord Farquaad with a serious Napoleon complex.
The animation from the computer gurus at PDI/DreamWorks is impressive, with a tremendous amount of detail to light and texture. Every blade of grass in a meadow blows in the breeze. Donkey's fur looks so soft you could reach out and pet him. Fiona's features are so remarkably human, she looks like Bridget Fonda.
"Shrek" achieves that highly desired balance of offering something for everyone modern-day jokes for the adults about fairy tales they grew up loving, and bright, colorful characters for children (along with some totally unnecessary bathroom humor for older kids).
Don't hurt your brain bothering to look for a plot, though.
What little story the film offers is merely an excuse for the animation, and for a dizzying array of pop culture references many of them hackneyed, some of them amusing.
Like last year's "Scary Movie" and probably this year's upcoming "Scary Movie 2" there are enough TV, movie and pop music in-jokes to make your head spin: "The Dating Game," "Riverdance," the dreaded Macarena, even Rupert Holmes' "Pina Colada" song.
How many times do we have to see spoofs of the stop-action butt-kicking moment that defined "The Matrix?" And how many times do we have to hear Smash Mouth's annoying "All Star"? The song was overplayed when it first came out in 1999 it could never play again and that would be just fine.
But Hollywood references are some of the main sources of humor, specifically the rivalry pitting DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images versus Disney and its computer animation arm, Pixar.
It began in 1998, when Disney released "A Bug's Life" and DreamWorks came out with "Antz," two movies that were nearly identical in their looks and themes.
"Shrek" continues the rivalry in ways that are awfully cute and not terribly subtle. Lord Farquaad's castle is a cold, imposing version of Disneyland, complete with turnstiles, parking lots sections named for fictional characters and wooden puppets from around the globe singing a song that sounds more than a little like "It's a Small World." It's hard not to smile because it's so dead-on.
After a 90-minute onslaught of in-jokes, here's the real punch line: "Shrek" strives to have a heart. Supposedly there's a message about beauty coming from within, but somehow it rings hollow.
(Spoilers coming up read on at your own risk.)
Fiona is under a curse, and turns into an ogre herself when the sun goes down. Then she becomes a svelte, beautiful woman again every morning.
But when she's in ogre mode, she really isn't that unattractive. Her body has the Rubenesque shape of most women in America, and her face is almost cute except for the tiny cone-shaped green ears sticking out from the sides of her head, of course. The filmmakers didn't have the guts to go all the way and make her a hideous freak.
Fiona thinks she's "a horrible, ugly beast" as an ogre, even after Shrek falls in love with her. Only when Shrek tells her she's beautiful does she think it's possible. He validates her what kind of message is that for young girls?
Maybe that's not what they'll walk away remembering when the house lights come up. Maybe they'll be singing the song from the film's big closing production number a rousing version of The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" and run out and buy the soundtrack.