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2001 - R - 100 Mins.
Director: Vicky Jenson, Andrew Adamson, Victoria Jenson
Producer: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Aron Warner, John H. Williams, David Goodwine
Written By: Joe Stilman, Roger S.H. Schulman, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassel
Review by: David Trier
Animated films all face the same challenge. Kids are entertained by bright colors and boisterous behavior and parents want their kids to be entertained. But kids don't buy tickets, so the film has to give parents something for their money other than silencing their kids for an hour and a half. Shrek tries harder to do this than most films of its kind, maybe even harder than it needs to, but for the most part, it succeeds.

Shrek (Mike Myers' voice) is an ogre living in the swampy woods in that ambiguous middle ages where all fairytales take place. He's ugly and smelly, but otherwise benign. Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow's voice) is a napoleonic prince who hopes his city will be the purist in the land when he evicts all fairytale characters and resettles them in the swamp. He also wants to be a king, which the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall informs him requires a bride. Fortunately, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz's voice) is trapped in a tower guarded by a dragon, waiting for someone to save her and her true love to kiss her and set her freedfs,ah ladf kkjfr0rt;porwujjjjjjjjjjjjj.... Sorry, fell asleep. Anyway, Shrek goes to Lord Farquaad and demands to have his swamp back. They make a deal where Shrek will bring Fiona to him in exchange for the re-resettlement of the fairytale characters. Shrek embarks on this mission accompanied by a loud-mouthed donkey (Eddie Murphy's voice) only to find that Fiona is legitimately appealing. She has a secret that Farquaad should have researched that makes for quite a happy ending.

First off, the computer effects are stunning. Objects may not look real but they almost look better than real, super-real. Technology has improved upon trouble-spots like hair and rippling water and although they have yet to master the subtelty of human expression, the animated people are quite impressive. Shrek himself is drawn in such a way that he is far from handsome, but immediately likeable, looking uncannily like Chris Farley (who was originally pinned to the script). It's unclear to me why Mike Myers chose to do a subtler version of his angry Scotsman voice for Shrek. His vocal performance is emotionally well-delivered, I thought, but the accent is not only unnecessary, but so ambiguous it becomes distracting. Although annoying sidekicks always seem to be overtly racist, and the loud-mouthed ass played by a famous black man is certainly testing the waters, Eddie Murphy's donkey is legitimately funny. Unlike Jar-Jar Binks, whom I wanted to strangle, the donkey is goofy and cute. Murphy's vocal performance is confident and entertaining. John Lithgow does a perfect job in what is unfortunately a study in cliche fairytale rulers. Cameron Diaz does a fine job as well. Her character, I think, comes closer to interesting than most fairytale princesses, but I wouldn't have objected to more substance.

The platform for the story is a surprisingly relevant one. The fairytale characters are a minority group, evacuated from their homes by an elitist administration and resettled on land that is much worse than before and also inhabited by someone already. Such is the plight of refugees all over the world and recently, the newspapers too. This topic is brought up early on, but then abandoned for a love story, which I find a little disappointing. Shrek's mission to get the princess is on the condition that the fairytale characters are removed from his land. But it's never mentioned where it is they're supposed to get moved to. Their old homes? Not very likely. And even in the end, when the evil prince is destroyed, there's no mention of what happens to the fairytale refugees. To bring up a topic so rich in emotion and relevant in culture, only to drop it and forget that it was brought up, seems pretty shady. After all, this movie is almost as much for adults as it is for kids, so would it be a crime if it said something by accident that mattered?

The film's ending is very pleasant and enjoyable, but way too abrupt. There is no real climax or battle scene. Although to be fair, they didn't drag it out like most animated films do. And I take issue with the idea that someone will become attracted to a nice ugly person if only they were ugly themselves, but I suppose it's better than the message behind Beauty and the Beast (if we could find a way to make you not so ugly, I'd be able to love you). The film is frequently flawed, but altogether a pleasant way to spend that amount of time. Its jokes range from laugh-out-loud to overdone toilet humor, but mostly settles around fun. Watching the Gingerbread Man get tortured for information is sick and hilarious. The action is engaging but the film isn't too fast-paced or overstimulating. And when you consider that something this captivating is ultimately nothing more than a complicated series of ones and zeroes, you have to recognize its brilliance. Let's just keep CGI out of horror, OK?

Anyway, for a film that's main purpose is to sell film-related merchandise, Shrek is more enjoyable than one would expect. Although prepare to be inundated with Shrek marketing until insect-like creatures tell their kids this planet was once covered in fleshy humanoid monsters. And lastly, besides its fantastic animation and decent performances, Shrek's single greatest achievement, and I mean this, is that it's not another damn musical. If the story and the characters are colorful enough, we don't need them to break out into song over every stupid little thing (like love).
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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