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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Shrek

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy
Director: Andrew Adamson
Rated: PG
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: May 2001
Genres: Animation, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Simon J. Smith, Vincent Cassel, Peter Dennis, Clive Pearse, Jim Cummings, Bobby Block, Chris Miller

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

The computer-animated comedy "Shrek" is designed to be enjoyed on different levels by different groups. For children, it offers imaginative visuals, appealing new characters mixed with a host of familiar faces, loads of action and a barrage of big laughs (including numerous gags related to body functions and yucky substances, apparently a requisite in contemporary family films). For adults, it's a fractured fairy tale packed with rude jokes that will sail over the heads of the kids. All in all, "Shrek" is a snappy ride, although there are a couple of points I found disturbing.

But first the basics. Based very loosely on a 1990 children's story, "Shrek" follows several momentous days in the life of the title character, a rotund green ogre voiced by Mike Myers in that pleasant Scottish accent he is so fond of using. Shrek is a grumpy fellow living a solitary life deep in the swamp, until a local nobleman disturbs his peace.

Petty tyrant Lord Farquaad (take away the "awk" in the middle and you have the basis of a string of impolite one-liners) owns the land on which Shrek resides. He proceeds to turn the ogre's yard into an Ellis Island for storybook characters when he banishes the fanciful beings from his castle. As a result, Shrek finds himself surrounded by legends like the Three Blind Mice, Pinocchio, the Big Bad Wolf, the Seven Dwarfs, and the Three Bears, to name but a few.

An enraged Shrek storms to the castle, only to find Farquaad (John Lithgow) ready to bargain. Lord Obnoxious wants to become king and the magic mirror from "Snow White" has shown him the way. All he has to do is rescue a damsel in distress and make her his wife. The mirror unveils three choices in a presentation straight out of "The Dating Game" (when Snow White is shown, the cheeky announcer purrs, "Even though she lives with seven men, she's not easy!")

Farquaad selects the lovely Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and offers Shrek a deal: If the ogre snatches Fiona from the dragon-protected, lava moat-filled castle in which she is held captive and brings her to the throne, the lord will allow the fairy tale pests to move back on his grounds. Shrek reluctantly agrees and sets off on his quest, accompanied by a motor-mouthed donkey (Eddie Murphy) determined to make the green grump his best friend. They finally hook up with the princess, only to learn she is not the helpless maiden they expected to meet. For the matter, the dragon offers a few surprises as well.

The movie references a great many other flicks, from "Babe" ("That'll do, donkey. That'll do") to "The Graduate." But the lion's share of the jokes come at the expense of the wonderful world of Disney. The public-domain characters made into icons in various Disney films take their hits - Pinocchio is referred to as a "possessed toy" and when Shrek spies a sleeping Snow White in his cabin, he bellows, "Get that dead broad off the table!" - but the biggest slams come when Shrek visits Farquaad's royal domicile, which closely resembles a certain magic kingdom, from its souvenir stands and queue lines to a display of animatronic figures that sing the palace rules in a relentlessly peppy tune that sounds a lot like "It's a Small World."

Which brings me to disturbing point number one. I laughed at all the Disney swipes, but found the mentality behind them a bit sad. The acrimony between Dreamworks honcho Jeff Katzenberg and Disney big wheel Michael Eisner is well known. For years the two companies have tried to sabotage each other's film and video releases by issuing similar competing productions on the same day. And now we have Katzenberg using an entire movie to attack his former employer. Here's a suggestion for the two boys: Grow up! Put the past behind you! There's room in the sandbox for both of you and if you farquaads can't play nice, then go to your rooms!

The other area I found troubling came in the portrayal of Lord Farquaad. Beyond all the irreverence, "Shrek" actually has a message: People should learn to look beyond physical appearances, because true beauty lies within. It's a lovely notion, but the film betrays its own moral by incessantly taking cheap shots at Farquaad's diminutive stature. Do we really need a family film reinforcing the idea that mocking short people is acceptable? The pompous, selfish behavior of Farquaad is enough to make him a target for zingers. Adding short jokes is simply mean.

Still, "Shrek" is a rollicking good time. The computer animation is mostly impressive (although several key characters look like animated rubber squeeze toys and the human movements are often jerky), the voice work is strong (particularly from Eddie Murphy), the laughs come fast and furious, and the moral, tainted though it may be, is a good one. To trot out a cliché, "Shrek" is fun for all ages. Parents, though, should remind their young ones during the ride home that taunting others because they are short, tall, skinny, fat, etc. is a bad thing.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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