Saturday, November 20, 2010

Film Review: Shrek

"Shrek" ** 1\2 (out of ****)

It was with some trepidation I revisited the world of "Shrek" (2001) and this giant ogre character.

I know "Shrek" has went on to become a family favorite and much to my surprise has actually been endured by children but I've just never quite been able to fall under the film's so-called charms. So much of the movie I find wildly inappropriate for children and feel the movie lacks the heart most enchanting family film possess.

But of course that was suppose to be the appeal of this Dreamworks CGI animated film. It was suppose to be an animated film which turned the fairy tale fantasy on its head. As we find an ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers) who finds one day his forest is filled with unwanted story book characters (the three little pigs, pinocchio, the three blind mice) by order of Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) ruler of the city of Duloc (which was meant to resemble a Disneyworld theme park).

Lord Farquaad desperately wants to become a king and turn Duloc into his kingdom but of course in order to do that he must marry a princess. A magic mirror (which resembles the one in "Snow White" ) in a dating game show fashion tells him of his options of eligible princesses. There is Cinderella, Snow White (whom despite living with seven men is not easy) and Princess Fiona. He chooses the one without a Disney copyright attached to it.

Since Shrek is not pleased with Farquaad's decision to rid Duloc of fairy tale characters and place them in his forest a deal is arranged. Princess Fiona lives in a castle which is guarded by a dragon. If Shrek and his side-kick, a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) can rescue the Princess, Farquaad will remove the fairy tale characters and give Shrek the peace he requires.

The concept of "Shrek" is to make a satire on the fairy tale genre while becoming one itself following the usual guidelines associated with one. The wicked ruler, the damsel in distress, the mean ogre...ect. But I just don't find "Shrek" to be as clever as it thinks it is.

There are a lot of adult jokes planted throughout the movie. Lord Farquaad is a very short ruler. When looking at the size of his castle, Shrek wonders if Farquaad is trying to compensate for something. Adults get the implication and children are going to wonder what does compensate mean. Another moment has Shrek reading a fairy tale and then suddenly ripping the page out and use it to wipe himself while in the bathroom. Some children will find this funny. Bathroom humor is usually a winner with children but with so many other highly entertaining kid films out there like "Toy Story" (1995) or "Kung Fu Panda" (2008) why watch this? Those movies are much more innocent and in my opinion, funnier.

"Shrek" wants to shock us for shock's sake. The idea is a cartoon with characters using semi-vulgar language would be funny. I recently attended a comedy improv show here in Chicago which centered on hand puppets cursing. It is the same concept. Take something innocent and turn it into something risque. That within itself should make it funny. But it doesn't always work.

The background story regarding "Shrek" is actually much more interesting than the movie itself. The film's producer and co-founder of Dreamworks, Jeffrey Katzenberg supposedly made this film as a sort of retribution against Disney and Michael Eisner. Eisner, according to Katzenberg would not offer him a promotion and forced him to give his resignation. It is believed the Lord Farquaad character is based on Eisner. And that is why there are so many direct Disney jibs and jabs in the movie.

I guess in the film's defense it did supply Dreamworks with a formula it would use on all of its following films. "Shrek" set the standard. Dreamworks is a little more edgier than Pixar (its main CGI rival). The characters in a Dreamworks movie have more sass to them. They have more street smarts. And these films are usually some kind of satire. "Kung Fu Panda" for example is a martial arts spoof, in a way.

Though I am completely aware I'm in a minority when it comes to "Shrek". The movie made millions at the box-office and inspired three sequels. The second one becoming one of the highest grossing animated movies of all time grossing a little less than a billion dollars. It was also turned into a Broadway musical, which I happened to see while on tour in Chicago. The show is surprisingly very entertaining. I'd even say it is better than the movie. If you want to see "Shrek" see it on stage.

The movie was even nominated for two Oscars, winning one for "Best Animated Feature" and being nominated for "Best Adapted Screenplay". And was even shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

The movie was directed by Andrew Adamson, who also directed "Shrek 2" (2004) and the first two "Chronicles of Narnia" movies. It was co-directed by Vicky Jenson, who would direct "Shark Tale" (2004) which I prefer.

Like most animated movies there is a message lurking around "Shrek", something about learning to be yourself and accepting who you are. Shrek isn't really a bad guy and isn't as ugly as he thinks he is. But I honestly feel there are much better, more heartfelt and kid friendlier animated films to see.