Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG for mild intensity, bathroom humor
Run Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Incessant pop culture references, and the witty spoofing of beloved fairy tale traditions, lend this animated classic an edgy cool that translates into droll viewing for movie lovers of all ages.
Once upon a time, in a muddy, boggy swamp, there lived a dastardly green ogre named Shrek (voice of Mike Myers). Left to his own devices by the residents of the surrounding forest (who didn’t like his greenness or his horny ears), sensitive-at-heart Shrek had constructed a hard emotional shell around himself. When the evil, pint-sized Lord Farquaad (voice of John Lithgow), ruler of the neighboring kingdom of Duloc, evicted the local color (your favorite fairy tale characters) in favor of taking a princess as his wife, the fabled squatters pitched tents in Shrek’s soupy backyard. Determined to recover his precious privacy, Shrek cut a deal with Farquaad. He would fetch the princess, escort her to the home of the vertically-challenged Lord, and secure the deed to his swamp along with freedom for the fairty-talers.
Among the volunteers to accompany Shrek on his dangerous mission was a mischievous Donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy), a cool, jive-talking ass who did not flinch from Shrek’s revolting mien or his foul breath. The two tentative friends set off in search of the beautiful Princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz), who was captive in a tall tower overseen by a vicious, fire-breathing dragon. Once fetched, the princess and her saviors began the long journey back to Duloc. A stimulating journey, indeed, because cupid was in the mood for love.
This isn’t your grandmother’s animated movie. The action speeds along like a Japanese bullet train, managing to be both relentlessly hip and conventionally mythical, while turning every old-fashioned storybook principle on its gilt-paged ear. The film pokes consistent fun at everyone – Pinocchio, Snow White and her slavish dwarves, the Three Blind Mice – and everything, including such media standards as “The Dating Game” (“…bachelorette #1 likes sushi and hot-tubbing…”), “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Graduate” and “The Matrix”. (You had to be there). One of the many hilarious bits features Fiona charmingly swapping high-Cs with a plump little blue-bird, Cinderella-style, only to watch the bird explode on a piercing high note.
Kudos to Palo Alto’s own PDI (Pacific Data Images), who, in conjunction with the big bad boys of DreamWorks, have fashioned a stunning masterwork. With the help of a proprietary facial animation system, animators were able to convey complex emotions through a layering system based on real human anatomy. Shrek and his cohorts move in a fluid, human flow that is as eerie as it is stunning. Visually, the film dazzles, utilizing brilliant designs and stylized backgrounds. Myers, Murphy, Diaz, and Lithgow read beautifully, with lots of energy and a minimum of melodrama. The comedy is spot on, with Murphy’s persistent patter stopping just short of irritating. Bathroom humor, my least favorite narrative tool, is used to unfortunate excess. Once upon a time and happily ever after. More where that came from, if you please.