Dir: Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
St: Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz(Princess Fiona), John Lithgow (Lord Farquaad)
“Ogres are not like cakes!”
He’s mean, he’s green and his breath’s obscene, but deep down Shrek ain’t such a bad ogre. Sure he has to scare off the revolting peasants once in a while to maintain his modest swampy residence in tiptop condition, but that’s all part of the tradition. However the land is in upheaval as diminutive dictator Lord Farquaad has an aversion to fairytale creatures, brutally evicting them. This results in hundreds of scared beasts invading Shrek’s precious swampland – the only solution to his woe being to help Lord Farquaad become king by marrying him off to the fair Princess Fiona. Unfortunately the princess is currently enjoying the hospitality of a particularly possessive and fiery dragon, locked in a high tower surrounded by molten lava and the skeletons of previous (failed) rescuers. However Shrek is not unaided in his quest for he has a magical companion to help (and more often hinder) his efforts – an ass that can talk, indeed an ass that rarely shuts up. Surely such a perfectly matched duo can save the princess and regain Shrek’s muddy abode? Well the odds are stacked against him and, even if they were to succeed is Farquaad really the right partner for the feisty princess?
Dreamworks’ second CGI feature has already (allegedly) provoked ire in the bowels of the Mouse House with its frankly irreverent approach to many of the fairytale creatures upon which the studio has built its wholesome reputation – characters that remain outside of copyright. Such sacred (cash) cows as Snow White (“She lives with seven guys but that don’t mean she’s easy… just kiss her dead frozen lips and find out what a live wire she really is”), Pinocchio (his nose providing a handy limbo bar), Robin Hood (a camp French Errol Flynn character who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, minus commission and expenses), the Gingerbread Man (turned informant after being dunked in milk and having his legs amputated) or even the crows from Dumbo (“Bet you ain’t ever seen a donkey-fly”) are caricatured, as are the trappings of the Disney fairy tale; the mirror on the wall forced into work by persuasive smashing of a smaller looking glass or the book of fairy tales voiced over only to be used as toilet roll. This is fun but could get tiresome were it not that Shrek hones its story down to a close pairing, with only a few characters fleshed out more fully. In this respect Shrek is a far more mature film than the company’s previous outing Antz in that the CG is there to provide the story’s aesthetic and direction, showing off the quality of the design and the rendering rather than go for the more obviously showy techniques that can blight the limit-free world of the CG ‘camera’. To this end all bar a handful of shots could be created by “real” camerawork, including some lovely changes in film-speed a la Peckinpah, and the crowd scenes are few and far between – you are not overwhelmed by shots of thousands of things moving around just because they can. Instead Shrek plays on the details – the motion of dust particles in the light, subtle distance fogging and a restrained rather than overtly Day-Glo colour palette. In many respects the lessons from Pixar are coming through – whatever can be done today will look dated tomorrow so go for good design and a screenplay which will give the film staying power. The soundtrack, however, gives the game away somewhat and will probably age the film more quickly than the charming animation.
For all its bodily emissions gags and abusive stance towards accepted classics, Shrek is nonetheless a very sweet film with a touching slice of romance and a wholesome sense of morality in between the (Dahl style) gross bits (Shrek uses his own earwax to make candles and eats eyeballs on cocktail sticks – yuck!). Myers and Murphy eventually make a good double act after a shaky start and the dialogue is suitably double entendre laden (“No-one likes to kiss asses” laments Murphy) while Princess Fiona can certainly take care of herself in a wire-work inspired martial arts sequence. Ultimately, as Murphy comments it “ain’t nothing but a bunch of dots” but it provides the plenty of humour and action. It may not be in the same league as Pixar’s work but Dreamworks are certainly heading in the right direction, with the right attitude.