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
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
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
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.