When I went in to see Shrek, I anticipated that the theater would be full of kids. And there were quite a few kids there. But there was a large number of adults as well, who often were laughing even harder than the kids. For a movie supposedly aimed at kids that's a sign that something different has been done.
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Something different has been done. Shrek is the type of movie that gets made only once in a great while. One that is willing to move forward and push the boundaries of movie making. One that is assembled by people who cared deeply enough to make a special movie, not take the assembly line approach that Disney would.
In fact, this film is the anti-Disney in its satirical jabs at the mouse. For instance, there is a scene where three of the characters are walking up to a castle. Only the castle has a parking lot and there is a sign that says "You are parked in Lancelot". They go on up to the castle and they are told "Push button for information". So they push it and a group of singing, dancing automatons come out and inform them of the rules of the place. The main rule being that you MUST have a good time while there.
The plot itself seems like an ordinary fairy tale. A big green ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers with a Scottish accent) lives in a big swamp and is feared by many people. But Shrek is not a vicious ogre. He is simply very hurt that people judged him based on his appearance. One day a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) wanders into the swamp. He is not afraid of Shrek. But instead takes a liking to him, most likely because he is an outcast himself.
Shrek just wants to be left alone. But before that can happen he finds his swamp invaded by fairy tale characters. The evil Lord Farquad (John Lithgow) wants his kingdom ridden of fairy tale characters and so he needs a princess to marry so he can become a king. He decides on Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) as his suitor and winds up, through a series of events, enlisting Shrek to rescue her from the evil dragon who's holding her captive in a tower surrounded by a moat of lava.
The plot itself may seem recycled from various children's fairy tales. But there's really much more to it than that. Instead of recycling the fairy tale plots, Shrek pokes fun at them the same way it pokes fun at Disney. For instance there's a scene where Farquad asks the Magic Mirror to tell him "Who's the ruler of them all". I won't spoil the answer because it depends on surprise to really work. Later on, there's a debate between Shrek and Fiona over whether or not it is a cardinal rule that a knight must always rescue the princess in fairy tales.
The performances also make Shrek great. Myers is superb as Shrek, the bad tempered yet kindhearted ogre. Myers proves that he is an actor who's genius at comedy can take him anywhere. Eddie Murphy is equally hilarious as the donkey. He gets off quite a few of those patented Murphy one-liners that work quite well. If Murphy keeps making good choices like this one and less like Vampire In Brooklyn, then he will continue to experience big screen success. And Cameron Diaz is superb as the sweet and resourceful princess who has a secret of her own. Watch for the scene in which she parodies her Charlie's Angels role.
A question always comes up about movies like this. Is Shrek for kids or adults? I think it will appeal to both and it's a good family movie. But I have a feeling that adults will actually appreciate it even more, because they'll get the satirical elements and understand the films message about tolerance and accepting people who are different.