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Reviewed by Jason Myers, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
Genre:   Fantasy / Comedy
Released:   May 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

Once upon a time, a diminutive tyrant named Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) sent an Ogre (Mike Myers) and a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy, who played Mushu the dragon in Disney's Mulan) to rescue a beautiful princess (Cameron Diaz). But if you saw the previews, you already know that. Well, lemme' ask ya this: are you a little wary of going to see Shrek because it seems like yet another ploy to sell action figures and Happy Meal tie-ins? Well, maybe it is. But it's also one of the best movies of the year, regardless of its target market.

I watched Shrek about 9:30 at night with an audience of people who were mostly over the age of twelve (which is, in my opinion, the best way to see a "kiddie" movie). The theater was electric with laughter.

I saw and enjoyed Toy Story, Antz, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2, and, honestly, this one blew them all out of the water. Yes, the computer animation was amazing (the irises of the characters' eyes were individually animated to react naturally to the amount of light in each shot), but that's just the icing on the cake. The plot is simple, but the execution is intricate. The jokes are layered one upon another, like a good Simspons episode. And the voice work is way above par. Mike Myers gets extra points for 1) begging the filmmakers to let him redo all of his dialogue because he was unhappy with his performance and 2) coming up with a voice that doesn't sound like a one-note Saturday Night Live character.

DreamWorks is fast becoming my favorite production company. They excel at making smart, artful movies that also happen to be crowd pleasers (American Beauty, Chicken Run, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator). There have been some notable missteps (The Haunting), but you get the idea.

Okay, so Shrek is entertaining enough for the grownups, but what about the kids? Like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Animaniacs, Shrek is the gift that keeps on giving. They'll laugh at certain jokes now, and, as they get older, they'll realize that there is a whole level of humor that they missed when they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Shrek is rated PG, for some racy content (try saying Lord Farquaad with a Scottish accent), but that stuff will go right over the heads of your innocent little angels. The biggest danger comes when you laugh out loud at a line like "Snow White. She lives with seven men, but she's not easy," and your tot asks, "Why is that so funny, Mommy?"

Even the humor that seems a bit obvious (spoofs of The Matrix and the WWF and assorted gross-out humor) are pulled off with style and wit. Shrek does for earwax what There's Something About Mary did for… man-made hair gel. And then there are those countless allusions to fairytales in general, and to Disneyfied fairytales in specific.

Like any fairytale, Shrek is maybe a little too dark for the comfort of some parents. An internment camp for fairytale creatures is pretty heavy stuff. And pay close attention to the three bears.

Okay, time to divulge a personal bias. I totally dig this type of subject matter. I even took an entire class on fairytales in college. Shrek is a postmodern fairy tale. People will mistake it for a spoof. But spoofs (like Scary Movie and Hot Shots: Part Deux) have no story value outside of the laughs you get from a parody.

Shrek isn't a spoof of fairytales. It's a fairytale that spoofs fairytales. If there's one thing that Ms. Plotz taught us in fairytale class (aside from the fact that every fairytale ever told is full of Freudian sexual symbolism and misogyny, misogyny, misogyny), it's that fairytales function as a blueprint for behavior. That's why parents read them to kids. They've got messages. Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Trespassing is bad. Hansel and Gretel: Don't take candy from strangers (and never ever trust your stepparents). The Princess and the Pea: Princesses are way more trouble than they're worth. And Sleeping Beauty teaches us about the complex politics of party invitations.

Shrek is very much a typical fairytale in this sense. It's got a moral. But it takes the fairytale structure and reinterprets it. Its message is not that fairytales are sexist, racist, classist, and any other ist under the sun (sorry, I'm just having bad flashbacks to every college literature class I've ever taken). But it does take the time to question: "Okay, so Cinderella is about true love and finding your place in the world, but what does it say about male/female relationship roles?" Shrek has a lot to say about one Disney movie in particular, but I'll just let you watch the movie and see it for yourself.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go see it for yourself. Then go read the book Shrek, by William Steig. And while you're at the bookstore, pick up my favorite postmodern fairytale book, The Stinky Cheese and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. You'll thank me later.

Film/DVD editor Jason Myers knows the Muffin Man, the Muffin Man, the Muffin ManĂ–

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