Basically, “Shrek” is an energetic, beautifully animated, funny, swift kick aimed solely at Disney”s crotch. After nursing that particular appendage, Disney CEO Michael Eisner had better tend to his heels, as DreamWorks SKG”s latest proves that The Mouse is no longer animating with the biggest pencil. Tasteless double entendres aside, “Shrek” would not be a success if it was simply a big-budget swipe at the competition.
The film is a fractured fairy tale, acknowledging its place in the pantheon of animated movies without reveling in the post-modern irony that has prevailed in comedy and animation for the last decade. This rather tricky stunt allows for a movie that kids and adults can enjoy on both the same and different levels. While the average grown-up may find an Ogre lighting a candle made from his own ear wax a little juvenile, they”re bound to enjoy Eddie Murphy throwing away lines as a motor-mouthed donkey which will go right over the little ones” heads. However, an arrogant Robin Hood and his musically inclined Merry Men “breaking it down” into a Riverdance rendition is just plain funny for everyone.
The story centers on Shrek, an antisocial ogre voiced by Mike Myers in full Scottish mode (“Mooove, Heeeed!”). Shrek”s idyllic forest has been over-run by displaced fairy tale characters (most of which happened to be made into cartoons by that other company), who were chased out of the magic kingdom of Duloc by evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, with enough leftover ham to make a sub). Shrek wants the characters out and his peace returned, so he strikes a deal with Farquaad. He”ll rescue the paradigm princess (Cameron Diaz) from the dragon, and Farquaad will fix everything. And guess what? Shrek falls in love with the princess, and the love is reciprocated! These standard plot elements are of little consequence, as the enjoyment of the movie comes from the charm and humor of the main characters, both visually and vocally.
Myers is strong but not wonderful as the titular main character. He plays the funny parts way over the top (it is a cartoon) and can bring it down for the more poignant moments (poignant in a cartoonish sort of way). Murphy is hilarious as the sidekick, knowingly mocking the stereotypes associated with sidekicks in general, and African-American sidekicks in specific. His ability to showcase the gleefully dumb while throwing away the more intelligent ad-lib shows his growth as a comedian and his devotion to the character. Diaz is as sunny and cute as ever, and does her best to add depth to the most 2-dimensional character in this surprisingly 3-dimensional movie.
The animation has achieved a new echelon of excellence, and makes groundbreakers such as “Toy Story” appear to be filled in with an etch-a-sketch. The animator”s have created a world that feels as though it stretches beyond the boundaries of the screen, and would go on forever if you could simply crane your neck far enough to see. While creatures still fare better than people, the entire film has a style that makes this a moot point. All the harsh lines associated with computer animation of old have been eradicated, and what is left lives and breathes.
So, kids, until “Final Fantasy” sprawls across time and space later this summer, the bar has been set, and what may prove to be the most aesthetically pleasing film of the summer has arrived.