Shrek Review

Posted: June 13, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: May 18th, 2001

Running Time: 1 hour and 29 minutes

Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S. H. Schulman

Directed by: Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

When it comes to certain movies — at least those worth their salt — you notice certain subtleties that you didn’t pick up on before upon repeat viewing. So, imagine my surprise/amusement when, during my latest viewing of the 2001 animated hit Shrek, I noticed what is perhaps one of the most un-PG jokes in a PG-rated animated film. The scene in question comes around the middle of the second act, where the film’s villain is in bed at night sipping a martini and gazing upon the sight of his intended bride. He’s at least shirtless, but in the middle of the scene, he fleetingly glances down at the covers and shifts slightly in embarrassment. I think that’s the first, and only, erection joke I’ve seen in an animated family film. The phrase of “a faaaaaaaaaaamily picture!” immediately jumps to mind.

All subtle dick jokes aside, though, let’s move on to the larger picture here: Shrek as a film. It’s the movie that jumpstarted Dreamworks Animation and began perhaps the most popular CG-animated film series that doesn’t have Pixar’s brand name attached. Four films and thirteen years later, and how does it hold up? Pretty well, in fact. Does it stack up against the best that Pixar has to offer, though? As well as can be expected.

Our titular character (Mike Myers) is an ogre of the mean n’ green variety (as if there are many other options) who enjoys his secluded life in the forest. His days mostly consist of taking mud baths, putting up signs warning trespassers against setting foot on his property and happily scaring away any villagers who consider themselves brave enough to try and kill Shrek. But is Shrek really content with a life of solitude? He starts to confront that question when, one day, he crosses paths with Donkey (Eddie Murphy), a talking, motormouth donkey who’s unfazed by Shrek’s monstrous disposition and instead sees the nice guy that’s lurking just beneath that pale green skin. When Shrek’s swamp home is unexpectedly invaded by currently-evicted fairy tale characters such as The Big Bad Wolf, Pinocchio and The Three Little Pigs, Shrek and Donkey take it upon themselves to trek out and pay a visit to the nefarious (and height-challenged) Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), who’s the one who banished the bedtime folk to the swamp in the first place. As it so happens, Lord Farquaad is currently in the middle of a ploy to become King by marrying a princess; specifically, he has his sights set on Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who’s locked away in the highest room of the tallest tower in a castle guarded by a ferocious fire-breathing dragon. Lord Farquaad leverages Shrek into retrieving Princess Fiona for him, and it’s from that point on that Shrek’s life begins to change forever.

Having spent a good majority of my pre-teen years mainly focused on film and television geared more towards that age range, Shrek was obviously a staple of those last two years before I turned thirteen, so it’s definitely a film that holds a good amount of nostalgic value for me. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely mainly on said nostalgic value to enjoy Shrek all these years later, because this is a truly good animated film. It’s full of heart, humor and is just a good ol’ fun time, and a reminder of what DreamWorks Animation Studios can achieve when they’re not so concerned with making movies driven purely by pop culture references.

Shrek can most aptly be described as a buddy movie which morphs into a romantic comedy, all the while aided by classic fairy tale elements. So, as you can imagine, a lot of the movie’s success hinges on the voice talents and chemistry of Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. And, of course, they work wonders, even with just their voices. Each makes their respective character lively and memorable, and it really does say a lot that Myers and Murphy are funnier here and in Shrek 2 than they were in any of their subsequent live action efforts in the decade since this movie’s release. Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow also provide effective voiceover work, but really, there are only so many ways you can praise voice acting. At least, in my opinion.

The main areas in which you can praise a movie like Shrek are animation and comedy, two categories in which this film excels pretty well. The screenplay by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman and Roger S. H. Schulman boasts many jokes which hit the mark while also making sure the characters of Shrek, Donkey and Fiona remain likable and clever. Myers and Murphy naturally walk away with most of the movie’s more memorable lines (“We can stay up late swapping manly stories, and in the morning … I’m makin’ waffles!”; a line, by the way, which I’ve uttered a fair number of times), but nearly every other character who has enough screentime manages to get their own good joke or solid line. Even The Dragon, who doesn’t have a single line of dialogue, is very funny. Also, while the film does have its share of crude humor, it’s nowhere near as forced or not-fluid as it is in the third and fourth films of the series. But while also providing laughs, the script also contains a good amount of heart. Shrek isn’t just concerned with making you laugh; it also makes you care about these characters. The film also has the age-old, yet valuable lesson of not being ashamed of who you are or what you look like.

While that heart certainly works most of the time, I think the film falters in the Third Act when it needlessly indulges in the most tired-out romantic comedy trope in the book: the misunderstanding. God, can we just do away with this cliché already? In this section, all the drama hinges on the kind of simple misunderstanding that could be cleared up in just a few lines of dialogue if the characters just behaved maturely and talked out the issue instead of just “assuming what they mean.” Is this enough to hurt the momentum this movie had before that point? Well, yeah, because we know everything’s going to turn out fine — this is still a PG-rated family movie, after all — so there’s really no dramatic weight to these ten to fifteen minutes … at least, until the resolution. That’s really a shame, though, because this movie is so strong up until then. I’ve never really subscribed to the theory that an ending can ruin a movie, except maybe on one or two occasions, but I do believe that a movie can have a weaker Third Act. Such is the case with Shrek.

Actually, I’m sure I prefer Shrek 2, which I find has more laughs per-minute and also more energy. But Shrek is still a good movie that works well where it needs to and gets the job done. Even with my issues with its Third Act, I’ll still take this over most of DreamWorks Animation’s output these days. Now … could anybody else go for some parfait and waffles?

***/****

NEXT WEEK: If Pirates of the Caribbean ever comes to life, at least Jack Sparrow won’t eat tourists.

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