Reviewed by: Matthew Rees
|Featuring||Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow, Linda Hunt, Mike Myers|
|Producer||Penney Finkelman Cox, Sandra Rabins, David Lipman|
“The Prince isn’t charming. The Princess isn’t sleeping. The sidekick isn’t helping. The ogre is the hero. Fairy tales will never be the same again.”
Having been fortunate enough to see an advance screening of “Shrek”, I thought I’d share my impressions with you so you know what to expect when the movie is released on May 18th. “Shrek” is an oddball, computer-animated fairy tale spoof (think “Toy Story” meets “The Princess Bride”) from Dreamworks SKG. The title character is a large, green, ornery ogre voiced in Scottish brogue by Mike Myers—but don’t worry, this is not “Austin Powers” territory. Eddie Murphy reprises the role of wisecracking sidekick that he played so well in “Mulan”, only this time he’s a donkey, not a dragon. The principal cast is rounded out by Cameron Diaz as the feisty Princess Fiona, and John Lithgow as the egocentric and very short Lord Farquaad.
Lord Farquaad is obsessed with having the perfect kingdom, and to that end is rounding up and imprisoning fairy-tale creatures, most of whom flee to Shrek’s doorstep for protection. But to have a kingdom, you need to be a king, and Lord Farquaad decides the quickest way to kingship is to marry Princess Fiona. There’s just one small snag: she’s locked up in a tower guarded by a ferocious dragon. Enter Shrek, who’s come to have a word with Lord Farquaad about getting the unwanted squatters off his property. He agrees to rescue the princess in exchange, and he does so with characteristic directness. he’s hardly the Prince Charming that Fiona expected, but she warms up to him in time. The rest of the story can’t really be told without spoiling the movie’s surprises, but suffice it to say that it follows the time-honored trend of skewering familiar fairy-tale cliches while still managing to end happily ever after.
When all is said and done, “Shrek” is not the comic masterpiece that “The Princess Bride” was, but it’s still a very witty, very enjoyable movie. The comic timing is good, the satire is right on the mark, and the voice acting captures the characters perfectly. It helps that all the actors are totally in their element. The computer animation is top-of-the-line; would you expect any less from Dreamworks? The rock-and-roll soundtrack—opening with Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and finishing with a jazzed-up cover of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” by Eddie Murphy—may seem a little incongruous, but it blends well with the overall mood of the film, and isn’t bothersome unless you just don’t like that kind of music.
The main reason for the PG rating on “Shrek” seems to be a fair amount of crude humor—fart jokes, gross-out sight gags and the like. Most of this comes near the beginning of the film and serves to establish Shrek’s uncouth character. There’s a small amount of mild sexual innuendo, which is bound to go way over the heads of most children. We see a couple of very brief glimpses of Shrek’s bare buttocks and a little bit of Princess Fiona’s cleavage. I don’t recall any profanity (though I wasn’t really keeping score) except for a couple of creative wordplays using the word “ass” to refer to the donkey. There’s a moderate amount of violence, though it’s all very cartoonish. In very few cases is anybody seriously harmed, though many people get knocked around a lot. A gingerbread man is tortured by having his legs pulled off, a few forest animals meet unpleasant ends for comic effect, and one person is eaten by a dragon. We also see several skeletons of the dragon’s former victims lying around its lair.
On the positive side, “Shrek” has a lot of good, clean humor and some good messages. The biggest moral of the story is the wrongfulness of judging people by their appearance, although this is undercut somewhat by the abundance of short jokes directed at Lord Farquaad. A secondary message is the importance of companionship. All Shrek wants at the beginning of the movie is to be left alone, but he learns by the end that no man (or ogre) is an island. While there’s nothing really new or especially deep in the movie’s moral platitudes, they’re still refreshing in today’s self-centered and image-conscious society. And for children who haven’t heard them a hundred times before, they could very well make a lasting impression. With the noted caveats, I can recommend “Shrek” as one of the few movies these days that’s fun for the whole family.