directed by Andrew Adamson
& Vicky Jenson
(Dreamworks, 2001)

Shrek, an all CGI-animated feature, hilariously parodies many a familiar European fairy tale with especially pointed barbs directed at Disney -- not surprisingly, for one of the producers, Jeffrey Katzenberg, departed from his job at the "mouseworks" under less than amicable circumstances.

Based on a book by William Steig, the story features a refreshingly different eponymous protagonist: a big, fat, green, bald ogre with hermit-like tendencies voiced with an inexplicable yet endearing Scottish burr by Mike Myers. The aptness of the lead's moniker testifies to the cleverness of the scriptwriters, for "Shrek" in Yiddish means "a fright"! And when most folk see the titular character for the first time, his appearance, despite his ultimately benign nature, usually elicits fear.

Shrek's complacency gets shattered when the height-challenged villainous Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) banishes all the troublesome, magical fairytale creatures from his rigidly controlled domain to the faraway swamp that happens to be Shrek's home. Among the exiles, a talking donkey named Donkey (Eddie Murphy) gratefully attaches himself to Shrek, who has just rescued him from the chaos caused by the lord's decree. The upheaval also sent the myriad hordes of fanciful refugees literally to Shrek's doorstep, an intrusion that sends the irritated ogre (accompanied by the now inseparable Donkey) to Farquaad to seek a redress that will restore his swamp to his preferred solitude.

Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad -- to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a castle surrounded by fiery lava and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon and bring her back to wed the diminutive megalomaniac whose grandiose ambitions compensate for his lack of stature. This feat, successfully accomplished, will earn the ogre title to his swamp as his excusive residence. Fiona, delightfully feisty, proves to have her own decisive agenda concerning her ultimate fate.

The characters play out the story with the laughs coming thick and fast, sight gags abounding, often broad and even vulgar in essence. Scenes parodying the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, Robin Hood, Tinkerbelle-type fairies and numerous assorted dwarves and elfs unfailingly generate much laughter, especially a clever bit where Lord Farquaad tortures a gingerbread man. Anachronistic jokes sprinkled throughout Shrek, referencing American pop culture and entertainment successfully add to the overall fun.

Shrek offers, amidst the chuckles and guffaws, some very fine characters, from the formidable-looking protagonist with a gentle soul, to the shrewd, wise-cracking, jive-talking Donkey whose Murphy-voiced antics work far better here (being much less incongruous and jarring) than they did in the form of a mini-dragon in Mulan. Lithgow's vocals as Lord Farquaad ably embody the suitably nasty and slimy villain while Diaz's voice serves to project Fiona's amazonian energy. Additional joy comes from the clever pairings of Shrek with Fiona, a relationship that develops very believably, surprisingly and satisfyingly right up until the charming and adroit ending. Another great partnership involving the donkey with the (as it turns out) female dragon must be seen to be believed!

The CGI animation in Shrek is dazzling, colorful, detailed and all-around delightful, while the nowadays obligatory rock 'n' roll songs inserted into the fine, functional score manage not to grate too much. The movie succeeds by being a celebration of the diverse and the different, bringing characters that would normally, in Hollywood formulas, be relegated to the background or to supporting roles at best, to the fore. The best aspect of Shrek, the subtext that heroes and the nicest people can be the oddly colored, weird-looking types normally never seen in the leading parts in commercial films, gives this movie a resonance, relevance and depth truly admirable to behold and it does this with so much laughter!

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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