Once Upon a Time, There Lived a Perfect Movie Named Shrek

May 20, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Easily outdoes Disney in the family entertainment arena in the summer's (perhaps, year's) best entertainment

Cons:None...unless you're a Grimm brother on Disney's board of executives

The Bottom Line: The computer animation is eye-popping, the songs are infectious and the jokes are smart...but it's the heartfelt story that sets Shrek apart from most "kids' movies."

Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Shrek is not a kids’ movie.

It’s an everyone movie. The computer-animated fairy tale based on William Steig’s book is one of those rare cinematic snacks that will taste good to all audience members, from eight to eighty.

For the junior set, there are plenty of pratfalls and fart jokes; for teens, there’s the “tight” (teenspeak for “cool,” also known as “groovy”) animation; and for adults…well, the pleasures are boundless as Shrek turns fairy tales and Disney classics on their heads and dumps out all the gold in their pockets. Going to the movies as a family hasn’t been this much fun since last summer’s Chicken Run. Before that, I’d have to reach all the way back to The Princess Bride.

Shrek bears a passing resemblance to that 1987 fairy tale classic, but creates its own magic kingdom of memorable characters, soon-to-be-classic lines and fast-and-furious humor. All that and it still manages to deliver a healthy dose of pop psychology in under 90 minutes!

[Note to parents with very young children: a couple of scenes can be quite scary (especially in the dragon’s castle) and there are a few mild profanities (“damn” and “ass”) sprinkled throughout. Just thought I’d warn you.]

For those who are about to be bombarded by Shrekian marketing tie-ins (watch for plenty of Halloween costumes this year), I salute you and offer this brief summary: The title character is a big green ogre who lives a lonely life in his swamp, brushes his teeth with slug blood and eats a bowl of eyeballs for breakfast. Shrek likes his privacy but, deep down in his mean green heart, he yearns for love and companionship. One day, he gets more than he bargains for when a bunch of fairy tale critters (Snow White and her dwarves, the Three Bears, Peter Pan, and others) set up camp outside his hut. The storybook gang has been evicted from their land by the local despot, Lord Farquaad—a ruler with some, um, “size issues” (for one thing, his big head is wildly disproportionate to the rest of his stunt-growth body). When Shrek goes to lodge a complaint at Farquaad’s palace (a place that looks suspiciously like a certain Magic Kingdom), he ends up getting the job of rescuing Princess Fiona (a comely maiden Farquaad wants as his bride) from a castle guarded by a scary dragon. Shrek begrudgingly takes his newfound friend, a chatterbox donkey, along on the trek.

All the standard fairy tale ingredients are on full display here—beat insurmountable odds, rescue the princess, live happily ever after—but unlike many movies (both live action and animated), which follow a Grimm brothers formula as if they were connecting dots, Shrek takes an extra giant step forward to bring us a story that is genuinely moving. Sure, Shrek is knee-slapping funny, but it also carries a poignant message that’s just smart enough to not be too cloying: sometimes things are more than they appear. Or, in Shrek’s case, ugly is only skin deep. “Ogres are like onions,” he tells Donkey, “they both have layers.”

So does this movie. It’s an instant all-ages classic—one that they’ll be peeling for generations to come.

And they all live happily ever after.


But, wait! I haven’t even mentioned the animation, the music or the wonderful voice-work. I guess it’s testimony to the strength of Shrek’s story that I nearly overlooked the eye (and ear) candy of the Jaw-Dropping Movie of the Year.

There’s no question that Shrek takes a biiiig giant step forward in computer animation (one which this summer’s Final Fantasy hopes to equal). The computerized images are bright and colorful as a candy store and sharp enough to cut your eyeballs. Every blade of grass, every strand of hair stands out. The animation team has advanced photorealism to such a degree that Shrek makes the Toy Storys look like a kindergarten crayon drawing.

But all the pretty images would be nothing without the music and voices that tickle your ear. The soundtrack is chockfull of rock-and-pop hits by folks like Smashmouth, the Proclaimers and Baha Men that fit seamlessly into the action (only Rufus Wainwright’s “Hallelujah” feels strangely out of place). Adding even more delight are the characterizations voiced by Mike Meyers (Shrek), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), John Lithgow (Farquaad) and, most especially, Eddie Murphy (Donkey) who creates one of the most endearing on-screen beasts of burden since Eeyore.

It’s not even the official start of the summer movie season, but Shrek already looks like the one to beat—for this or any season, for that matter. Its pleasures—visual, aural and emotional—are sure to reward repeat viewings. By the time you walk out of the theater, you’ll have a smile on your lips, a skip in your step and a song in your heart. Shrek reminds us that, indeed, it’s possible to live happily ever after.

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