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'Shrek': A Funny, Fractured Fairy Tale

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2001

   


    'Shrek' Romance is in the air for Princess Fiona and Shrek in the hilarious and heartwarming "Shrek." (DreamWorks SKG)
At first glance, he's an ugly one. Shrek, that is, a green ogre with trumpet-shaped ears and a seemingly ferocious temper who's never afraid to rid himself of unneeded body gases.

But in no time, we realize he's a sweetheart, a pushover, a softie who just acts mean and ornery because, well, everyone thinks he's mean and ornery. And in the fabulous, computer-animated "Shrek," he gets more extra-ornery by the minute.

In William Steig's children's book of the same name, Shrek was a great character. And thanks to the cutting-edge wonders of PDI/DreamWorks' computer animation – the ability now to render the fluidity of the human face and evoke the realness of life – he becomes a great character on-screen.

"Shrek," which outdoes PDI/DreamWorks' own "Antz," has a beautifully sharp, realistic look. But beyond that, it's a gas to watch. It takes amusing liberties with fairy tale characters, pokes fun at the Disney military-industrial complex and redounds with spirited off-screen performances from Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and others.

A certain Lord Farquaad (voice of John Lithgow) is searching for a wife. Because of a complicated situation that's not worth getting into here, he needs a mate so he can qualify as king of the land. He's a bad piece of work. The 3-foot-tall despot has already banished all the fairy tale characters from his land, resulting in a diaspora of familiar bedtime figures. We're talking the Three Blind Mice, the Big Bad Wolf – all of them.

Shrek (Myers) and the obnoxious Donkey (Murphy) factor in when Farquaad concludes that he needs dragon-slaying assistance. The woman he wants is the beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who's imprisoned in a castle by said dragon.

To cut a deal to keep his house, the antisocial Shrek accepts the mission. He's accompanied by his pain-of-an-ass companion, who's so grateful for Shrek saving his life in an earlier scene, he's duty bound to return the favor and become Shrek's buddy.

And here it is: the essential plot twist of any detective movie – and yes, there is a certain gumshoe element here. Shrek falls in love with the princess he's been ordered to find. But we don't need to get into that too much. What counts in "Shrek" is the sideshow, whether it's the fluid, lifelike visuals or the slightly twisted humor.

While kids can chortle at Farquaad torturing the Gingerbread Man in a protracted, cookie-crumbling scene (The horror, the horror!), grownups can smirk at jokes about Disneyland's character-named parking lots or laugh at the scene when Farquaad consults with the Magic Mirror for wifely candidates. Snow White, says the Mirror, is definitely possible. "Although she lives with seven men," he tells Farquaad, "she's not easy."

The bread and butter of the movie, though, is the back-and-forth among the three main characters as they journey to Farquaad. Myers is inventively funny, as are Murphy, who's doing slightly badder variations on his "Mulan" character, Mushu, and Diaz, who makes a funny, earthy princess. There's a rather lovely romantic element at work, too, which hinges on the princess's closely held secret – and a positive message about inner beauty in the bargain. So, we have a movie that appeals to the eye, mind, heart and funny bone; that's a pretty good quadruple for any movie. It's certainly a bright first step for the summer.

"Shrek" (PG, 84 minutes) – Contains flatulence, catty satire, crude humor, mild language and subversion of fairy tale tradition.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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