Shrek, 2000, 1 ¾ stars

Shrek flick schlock:

Disney digs defeat cartoon

Katzenberg’s intentions are clever, but the story is not

From The Orlando Weekly, 2000

Once upon a time in the kingdom of Disney, there was a prince named Jeffrey. After a struggle with King Eisner, um, I mean Farquaad, he was banished. But in the land of Hollywood, banishment apparently means collecting $250 million from your former employers and then lampooning them in bad movies.

It’s not that Shrek, the new DreamWorks project produced by Katzenberg, is worthless; its computer animation is comparable to the Toy Story movies, and there are plenty of laughs, despite many involving flatulence and other bodily functions. But the film spends so much time being cleverly hip and spoofing all things Disney that it struggles to find its own identity. The plot is little more than a simple fable with the cliché message of not judging a book by its cover thrown in, which is ironic since the movie spends most of its time lambasting and turning on its ear conventional animated storytelling.

Shrek is an ogre who lives contentedly as a hermit until his woods are overrun by fairy tale creatures. This bizarre assortment of characters has been banished from its own kingdom, apparently by the evil Lord Farquaar, although the reason behind this is vague. This must be the best way writers could find to include characters as diverse as the “possessed toy” Pinocchio and Snow White. And the only way Shrek can gain back his happy isolation is to seek out Farquaar and beg him to send the creatures back from whence they came.

Shrek, voiced energetically by Mike Myers, is accompanied by a wisecracking donkey (Eddie Murphy) on a voyage to the evil lord’s kingdom, which is part castle, part theme park. After passing through the turnstile and being sung to by dolls straight out of “it’s a small world,” they are given their task – rescue the beautiful princess Fiona and bring her to Farquaar (John Lithgow) so they can be wed.

The stars of Shrek are the animation and the references to Disney, not the story. The detailed landscapes are spectacular, and much of the character animation is good too, despite the human’s jerky movements. Some of the musical choices are also clever and touching, such as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. But it is the title character who comes closest to providing any heart. We feel sympathetic to the ogre, especially when he falls in unrequited love with Fiona (an uninspired Cameron Diaz). We also feel his pain at having to endure his annoying traveling companion, Donkey, who deteriorates into an annoying rip-off of Murphy’s dragon from Mulan.

No one should resent a playful ribbing of the Mouse. But Shrek spends so much time being cute and generating one-liners that the characters become shallow. Most jokes are lifted from other films, including Babe, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Dumbo and even the Matrix. The laundry list of references is so long that it seems as if the writers were more intent on inside jokes geared toward adults and making themselves and other ex-Disney employees laugh than creating a fantasy world that the whole family could enjoy.

Some of the gags work, but just when some of the flavor of Princess Bride is creeping in, Dumb and Dumber takes over. For example, when Fiona asks Shrek why he won’t fight the dragon, he responds, speaking of his donkey friend, “I have to save my ass.” Will adults really think the double meaning is funny, and will parents really appreciate the teenage humor?

There’s little doubt that Shrek will be a hit because of its fast-paced jokes and high-quality animation. But we ultimately learn more about Katzenberg’s feelings toward his former employer than about the frailties and love that Shrek and Fiona share.