Shrek

Once upon a time in a land called Disney there lived a Prince named Jeffrey of Katzenberg, who ruled the land with Prince Michael of Eisner. The 2 princes were known & loved throughout the world – for they made the children very happy with all manner of pretty moving pictures, carrying on the great work of the late King Walt. They made cute little creatures who smiled & sang & who spread joy & hope wherever they were seen. The fame of the 2 princes spread far & wide, & all was well.

Then one day Prince Jeffrey & Prince Michael had a very big fight. No one was very sure what the fight was about – 1 prince said this, the other prince said that – but the fight was so bad that Prince Jeffrey left the land of Disney altogether & set up a rival kingdom in the land of DreamWorks.

The people were very sad. They wondered if their children would ever again see any more cute little singing creatures who brought such joy into their little lives. However in the fullness of time it came to pass that there came to be not 1 but 2 more of these ‘picture-shows’ for the people to enjoy! For lo, not only did the land of Disney bring them to the people, but also did the land of DreamWorks! And the people rejoiced. And the grown-ups especially did rejoice, for they soon began to see & enjoy the cute little creatures for themselves along with the children, for it seemed that there perchance did appear to be a little bit more to them in these modern times than there perhaps was in times of old. And everyone lived happily ever after – The End. (Or is it?)

(The above events are entirely fictional & any similarities to any persons living or dead is unintentional &/or a figment of your warped imagination, etc. etc.)

Following on from ‘The Prince of Egypt’ & ‘Antz’, ‘Shrek’ is the latest animated feature from Disney rivals ‘DreamWorks’, & very good it is too.

The titular Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers of ‘Wayne’s World’ & ‘Austin Powers’ fame, using his best ‘Fat Bastard’-esque Scottish brogue) is a big ugly green Ogre living in glorious squelchy squalour in his shack in the swamp. He’s not a bad ogre as such; he just wants to be left alone, & gets very tetchy when his privacy is threatened. At odds with a world that will only ever judge him by his appearance & that refuses to see that just ‘cos he’s ugly on the outside doesn’t mean he’s also ugly inside, he does his level best to keep the world away & himself away from the world.

Stumbling into his life comes a talking donkey called ‘The Donkey’ (voiced by Eddie Murphy). Also an outcast – a talking donkey (even in a world that has Ogres!) is unheard-of – he attaches himself to Shrek, much to Shrek’s annoyance, for protection & for company. To make matters worse Shrek finds his shack invaded & surrounded by every odd-bod around: it turns out that the local despot, Lord Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow, probably best known as Dick in TV’s ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’) has decreed that all fairy-tale characters are to be evicted, so they all troup along to Shrek’s as they don’t know where else to go.

Shrek (with Donkey in tow) then decides enough is enough & marches off to Lord Farquaad’s castle to sort him out. While there he manages to get roped into rescuing a princess (voiced by Cameron Diaz) from a dragon so Farquaad can marry her, & then the fun begins….

‘Shrek’ is one of the best animated films I have ever seen. It is certainly one of the best of the new breed of something-for-everyone animation, probably started by the likes of ‘Toy Story’, ‘Antz’ & ‘A Bug’s Life’ & more recently ‘Toy Story 2′, which cleverly appeal as much to adults as they do to their traditional children’s market.

The characters are smiley & cute – in their own way – & there is the obligatory sneering villain; there’s lots of gross stuff & fart jokes for the teens, & for adults & film buffs plenty of film references. Particularly good for grown-ups like me though is the way many of the acceptedly traditional maudlin conventions of the genre are superbly & wickedly pilloried in a way that will appeal to any fans of adult bad-taste comedy.

For instance, there’s a Gingerbread Man being tortured by getting dipped in milk, & I love the way some of the most important dialogue takes place while Shrek is on the loo. Best of all, there is one horrible moment where the Princess launches into what seems to be a typical slushy ‘I’m singing in the woods with all the little birdies & animals because I’m so happy’ routine. It could have come straight out of ‘Bambi’ (which by the way I think is superb, despite it’s gushy sentimentality) or ‘Snow White’ – but it ends, errrr, somewhat differently! I’m not going to spoil it, but suffice to say that in a slightly twisted moment or 2 justice was done for all the adults who have had to suffer over the years the emotional abuse of the disgusting tweeness that is usually associated with this genre. Ever watched some nauseatingly cute kiddies cartoon birdie chirping so merrily & stupidly that it just made you want to get out a bloody great bazooka & shoot it straight in the face? Then you’ll love this. Or maybe it’s just me, & those nice men in the white coats are heading my way at this very minute!

Despite all this however ‘Shrek’ still has just enough sentimentality & moral message to keep the purists happy, & most adults should be able to predict the ending: this really does have something for everyone.

The animation & visual style of ‘Shrek’ is a triumph: as computer technology moves on in leaps & bounds so does the quality of animation it produces, & this seems to to take full advantage. This is stunning to look at: some scenes are breathtakingly beautiful; as good as or better than virtually anything that could be produced by pointing a camera. As far as I’m aware the previous benchmark in animated excellence was ‘Toy Story 2′ & as good as that was, ‘Shrek’ all but consigns to another era. Whereas ‘Toy Story 2′ was largely in static indoor & urban settings, ‘Shrek’ is mostly set outdoors or inside lavish castle complexes. Rivers run & shimmer in the sun, long grass waves in the wind & travellers leave a path as they walk through it, there stunning montain sunsets, flowing lava – this is really is a feast for the eyes, & without doubt the best animation I have ever seen.

The facial animations here make Buzz & co. look positively wooden. Individual face muscles have been animated with the effect, along with the excellence of the voice-acting, that these characters are so expressive you almost identify with them as much as you would human actors. Surely it won’t be long before animation is photo-realistic & indistinguishable from reality – a sobering thought when you consider it’s implications for propaganda & falsification of evidence.

Much has been made of the DreamWorks v Disney rivalry: DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg did fall out with with Michael Eisner while at Disney, & left apparently with considerable acrimony. It has been suggested that Katzenberg has used a lot of the material in ‘Shrek’ to get at Eisner. Lord Farquaad has been said to represent Eisner, & while I can’t say that I know the man personally, I do hear he’s very TALL & withFarquaad being very SHORT, this seems unlikely. On the other hand, that could just be asmoke-screen – who knows

There are unquestionably digs at Disney here however: Disneyland itself gets a hard time with the sight gags when Shrek & Donkey enter the court of Farquaad’s castle, & the Disneyish fairytale characters who besiege Shrek’s shack (try saying that after a few beers!) are made to appear like complete twits. In a delightful ‘Blind Date’ parody, when Farquaad has to chose between Cinderella, Snow White & Princess Fiona he chooses the non-Disney character, with a few gags at the at the expense of the others along the way. All of it however seems more good-natured than malicious, & Katzenberg claims he sent a video of the film to Disney before it was released & they objected to none of it. The controversy certainly won’t harm the box-office returns, that’s for sure!

So, ‘Shrek’: very funny, in bad taste but with a heart (much like Shrek himself), stunning to look at & highly entertaining- go see it!

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