THE GREATEST FAIRY TALE NEVER TOLD.
There’s a new ogre in town and he’s not making Disney happy. Just imagine taking beloved fairy-tale characters like Pinocchio and Cinderella, stars in their own right, and reducing them to insignificant (and somewhat annoying) supporting parts in an all-new fairy tale. And those who are doing it are not even Disney, but a new pretender to the throne, DreamWorks. I bet somewhere in the Disney HQ, a bitter Michael Eisner turned to Pinocchio, saying, “You used to be big”, with him responding, “I AM big. It’s the pictures that got small.” But you know what? This picture is by no means small.
Shrek is a green, peevish ogre who lives in a swamp. People fear him for no good reason and he has gotten used to it. If they don’t want anything to do with him, then Shrek doesn’t want anything to do with them. The story begins with his swamp being invaded by fairy-tale characters. The evil Lord Farquaad tells him that the only way for him to be left alone is to rescue Fiona, a princess, from a dragon. Reluctantly, Shrek sets off on the adventure, unable to get rid of a talkative donkey who insists on accompanying him. Once rescued, Princess Fiona can’t stop complaining about everything, and Shrek begins to loathe her, but we all know there will be a romance before the credits roll.
So very postmodern
It’s the stuff of a good, old-fashioned fairy tale, and it’s not at all unlike Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride (1987), another movie that gently made fun of fairy tales while also being one itself. It’s all so very postmodern – the world of princesses, dragons, castles and magic collides with modern-day feminism and playful references to pop culture phenomena like The Matrix (there’s a sequence with Fiona in a fight that looks like it was shot by the Wachowski Brothers). Very funny, especially the dialogue between the protagonists, and the comedians who voice them do an excellent job. Mike Myers gives Shrek a Scottish accent, which is weird but quite effective, and Eddie Murphy shows us why he used to be big in the 1980s. His Donkey, who’s in desperate need of company even when there’s no one else on hand but a grumpy swamp dweller, just can’t stop talking and he is equally hilarious and likeable. John Lithgow also shows his knack for comedy as the evil prince who enjoys torturing gingerbread men. Shrek deservedly became a box office hit. The animation department at DreamWorks was off to a shaky start in the 1990s, eventually scored with Antz and then hit the jackpot big time with this film. It’s interesting to see how Disney suddenly found itself struggling at the same time, its venerable animation department falling in the shadow of a much more successful subsidiary, Pixar. But the success of Shrek is not a matter of the merits of computer animation. It’s all about storytelling and creativity. That sense of imagination even influenced the making of the DVD; don’t miss the music video that features the characters from the movie performing a rowdy medley of songs.
The story itself is nothing special; there’s a Message of course (it’s what you have inside that counts), but the movie does not turn saccharine and it’s always nice to see an animated film that is successfully geared to an audience of both kids and adults. They will also undoubtedly appreciate the look of it. Computer animation keeps pushing limits and it seems as if its only problem is making human beings look convincing. That goes for this movie as well, but it never becomes a real obstacle. This is a fairy tale, after all.
Shrek 2001-U.S. Animated. 88 min. Color. Produced by Jeffrey Katzenberg, Aron Warner, John H. Williams. Directed by Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson. Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman. Novel: William Steig. Voices of Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Fiona), John Lithgow, Vincent Cassel, Jim Cummings.
Trivia: Chris Farley was allegedly considered for the voice of Shrek. The word ”shrek” means ”monster” in Yiddish. Followed by three sequels, starting with Shrek 2 (2004), a TV special, Shrek the Halls (2007), and a spin-off, Puss in Boots (2011).
Oscar: Best Animated Feature (first winner of that award). BAFTA: Best Adapted Screenplay.
Quote: “Man, you gotta warn somebody before you crack one like that. My mouth was open and everything… Yeah, right, brimstone, don’t be talking about no brimstone. I know what I smelt and it wasn’t no brimstone and it didn’t come off no stone neither.” (Murphy to Myers, sensing a strange smell)
Last word: “If [the Disney] heritage were not loved by everybody and respected throughout the world, including by us, then you couldn’t satirise it. You have to start with the fact that you must acknowledge how important, distinctive and distinguished it is. I know in my heart that we have been playful with it and I know that we have not been mean-spirited.” (Katzenberg, Dark Horizons)