Shrek

Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
Starring: The voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language and some crude humor.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
June 4, 2001

How long can I procrastinate writing this review? I saw Shrek the night it opened, over two weeks ago, but life is too busy. It's not easy running a multimedia empire -- especially when you're not making any money. However, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Co. at DreamWorks are doing quite well with their new computer-animated feature.

Based on the popular storybook by William Steig, Shrek boasts an all-star cast in voice-over, including Mike Myers as the title character: a big green ogre that lives in a swamp. The local dictator/theme-park-operator, Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), has banished all the fairy tale creatures from his kingdom, exiling all of them to Shrek's swamp. Unhappy with this arrangement, Shrek pays the lord a visit and strikes a deal to get the deed to the swamp and his privacy restored. Farquaad asks him to rescue an imprisoned princess and bring her back to his castle so that he can marry her and break her curse with love's first kiss (if it sounds complicated and ambiguous, that's because it is).

Accompanied by a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy), Shrek finds the princess (Cameron Diaz), who assumes that her rescuer must be her true love, despite his appearance. However, Shrek insists that she forget all the rescued-damsel conventions and help him get his land back.

Eventually, we learn more about the princess' curse and the lord's plans, all the while making sharp satire of fairy tales -- especially Disney's take on them. Some may accuse Katzenberg of making digs at his old employers, but Shrek is all in good fun. The Dreamworks staff has created a far more rich and diverse environment than Antz, their first attempt in this medium. The problem with the animation, however, is its greatest innovation: the prominence of human (or humanoid, in the case of Shrek) characters. Animating bugs and toys with computers is relatively easy, but this film tries to strike a precarious balance between realistic form and outright fancy.

The motion of the characters is robotic, much like a home video game. All individuality is limited to the faces, which were rendered with incredible effort and creativity. Plus, there is something eerily lifeless about the characters, even after some tinkering. Initial versions of the princess and Farquaad were far more realistic, and had to be made more cartoonish to relate with Shrek and Donkey. Unfortunately, less was done to the supporting characters, and they just end up creepy.

I know this is a lot of nitpicking about the animation, but that's where the major effort of this film lay. They had a good script that was very funny, but did it need the expense of computer animation? I don't think the team at DreamWorks is up to the task yet. Shrek would have worked even better in two dimensions, making a nice follow-up to the disappointing Road to El Dorado.

Instead, we are just given more proof that DreamWorks is still lagging behind Pixar and Disney. The genius of Toy Story 2 and the technical brilliance of Dinosaur have yet to be matched. Still to come is Sony's Final Fantasy, which looks to make even greater leaps in the depiction of human form in computer animation.

For now, we have Shrek, which is pretty good, but not where the art should be. It's a fun film to share with the kids and have some laughs of your own. If it wasn't at least this good in the writing department, some of my "clever" colleagues would be relentless with the "Shrek is dreck" puns. The public can be thankful for that, but the real animation fans deserve more.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Shrek (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Shrek (2001) -- VHS
Shrek (2001) -- DVD
Shrek!, a storybook by William Steig -- Hardcover
Shrek!, a storybook by William Steig -- Paperback Book and Audio Cassette (narrated by Robert Serva)
Shrek, a screenplay novelization by Ellen Weiss -- Paperback
Shrek Scratch and Stink Storybook -- Paperback
Shrek Mad Libs -- Paperback
Shrek Gag Book, by Dr. R.E. Volting -- Paperback
Shrek: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Shrek: Fairy Tale Freakdown -- Game for Nintendo Game Boy Color


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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan