An Unconventional Fairy Tale
There are just some sickos out there who get a kick out of seeing Snow White bitch-slap Cinderella. Fortunately for Mike Myers, this reviewer is just one of those people.
Let me explain. The bitch-slapping in question takes place in the new computer-animated comedy Shrek, "starring" Myers as the voice of an affable ogre with whom the title shares a name. The movie is set in a lush fantasy world populated by fairy tale characters such as Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs and the two aforementioned cat-fighters.
As you can probably tell, Shrek isn't your father's or even your older brother's animated movie. This is the hip, 21st century, tween-friendly McMovie, full of biting sarcasm and winking pop culture references (in the first half hour alone, the film sends up pro-wrestling and The Matrix). While watching Shrek, you can almost hear the Dreamworks writers wheeze with pain, as they try to hack-up yet another demographic-friendly allusion that is both witty and self-aware. Sure, the movie lacks class and charm-but today's kids don't want class and charm. They want attitude. And Shrek's got more attitude than a 24-hour marathon of Jeannine Garafolo standup (let us now take one second to pray that this never happens).
In between references to James Brown and Babe, Shrek manages to eke out a slight plot. You see, Shrek is a gentle giant, contentedly living alone in the middle of the woods, going about his business, scaring away the occasional angry mob intent on slaying him-you know, the usual things ogres do. However, Shrek's happy, if lonely, life is disrupted when little Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) enlists the beast to track down Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), whom the monarch seeks to make his bride. Joining Shrek in this journey, due to the law mandated by Animation Codes and Regulations Section 231b, is a wacky sidekick. In this case, that character takes the form of a donkey, aptly named Donkey (ha!) and voiced by Eddie Murphy. Needless to say, the two adventurers rescue the princess, and hijinks ensue.
However, this is all of little consequence. Shrek is a bona fide comedy, and the plot seems molded around the jokes, rather than visa-versa. All Myers and company want to do is make the viewer laugh, and no earwax or "ass"-is-a-synonym-for-"donkey" joke falls below their standards. Though not every wisecrack connects, the movie makes a commendable effort in creating an animated movie that is actually funny rather than "adventurous" and "poignant" as most other cartoon features tend to be nowadays.
Surprisingly, comic-genius Myers is the weakest link in the packed cast. Shrek, who sounds sort of like Fat Bastard Lite, has few good lines, and it is Donkey who steals the show. In what may be Murphy's funniest role since The Nutty Professor (or Metro, but that was more of an unintentional thing), Donkey prances around the screen, firing off a stream of surprisingly funny jokes and comments. Lithgow also deserves praise and laughs for his vocals on Farquaad, who is perhaps the first on-screen character ever on screen to have computer-animated chest hair.
Speaking of computer animation, the movie is done entirely in computer graphics, and yes, some of the visuals are quite stunning. However, it should be noted that there is yet to be a computer-animated movie with believable human forms. The men and women in Shrek often appear to move like possessed nutcrackers.
Actually, the movie itself is a possessed nutcracker: an old children's concept trying to pull some new tricks. Shrek may not turn the traditional animated movie upside-down, but at least it turns it on its side.