“Shrek” is the DreamWorks Animation blockbuster that “Antz” or “The Prince of Egypt” just couldn’t be. It hits on all the right cylinders and is nothing but a crowd pleaser. The summer of 2001 was dominated by a big green ogre and a talking donkey, surpassing even the highest expectations with a box office take of over $250 million. Make no mistake; this is Jeffrey Katzenberg’s dream project. You know him, he’s the guy who put the ‘K’ in DreamWorks SKG, and this is his big snub to his ex-employer, the house of the Mouse. The creators of “Shrek” worked in as many jabs at Disney as they possibly could within 93 minutes, and some of the biggest laughs come as a result. While I don’t remember the details of the huge Katzenberg/Eisner debacle from years past it’s clear some of that aggression-or maybe a better word would be animosity-between the two found an outlet here.
But the real irony is that the film touts itself as a parody of fairy tales and their conventions but fails to come through on that premise. Shrek, voiced in a Scottish accent by Mike Myers, is a happy ogre all alone in his swamp when suddenly all sorts of fairy tale creatures invade his property thanks to Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) seizing their lands. Eddie Murphy lends his vocal chords to Donkey, Shrek’s loudmouth companion, on their quest to save Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) in hopes of getting Shrek’s swamp back from Farquaad. This familiar plot has some good jokes but not great, and the idea that it turns conventions on their heads is half-baked. If you really wanted to surprise an audience, how about the bad guy winning in the end or a nice double-cross? I know I’d be surprised. In the final act the comedy ends as the “dramatic elements” come into play and frankly they seem out of place. The film winds to a conclusion and it’s happily ever after, the very contrivance that is parodied in the first scene of the film.
That’s not to say it’s all bad, with spot-on pacing and top-notch writing when the numerous fairy tale characters have their brief appearance. Eddie Murphy, much like in “Mulan,” steals the show with his over-the-top performance while Cameron Diaz breathes life into the ornery Princess and Lithgow relishes in the devious Farquaad. One interesting tidbit about the Scottish accent Myers donned is that it took three million dollars of additional animation at the last second to pull it off. The producers bet that his new accent would be funnier. They were right.
But regardless of qualms, this is a family-friendly feature that features very little toilet humor as most family films seem to rely on these days. “Shrek” is recommended not only to see what the hype is about, but also to see just how devious Katzenburg and the writers got with stabs at Mickey and all his friends.
VIDEO ^ Dreamworks has seen fit to provide two viewing options for “Shrek:” A Pan & Scan and 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen presentation. Not bothering with the former, the latter is gold; perfection; a revelation. Since it is a direct digital representation of a completely computer generated film, there is no print so there can be no bad contrasts or print damage. This wonderful transfer should be on the top of your demo pile to wow your friends on how cool your home theater can get. “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” are the same way, so take your pick; this is a joyous transfer that is stellar from start to finish.
AUDIO ^ In an effort to not confuse the hell out of you, I’ll break down the audio options on a per-disc basis. DreamWorks had the bright idea to include different tracks depending on how you view the film, and so confusion is bound to arise.
Disc One (Pan-and-Scan) ^ A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included in English, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks are included in English, French, and Spanish.
Disc Two (Widescreen) ^ Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in English, Spanish and French as well as a full DTS 5.1 English mix (yeah!). Included on both discs are English Closed Captions and French and Spanish subtitles.
So how do they sound? In short, they’re not reference quality but both flavors of Dolby Digital or DTS will still give your sound system an adequate if not overpowering workout. The bass is tight in Dolby but a bit more robust in DTS, and the dialogue, effects, and surround cues in the Digital Theater Sound track edge out the one by Dolby Labs. Fidelity is strong and the surround use, though it gets a little gimmicky, is ignored most of the time, forcing the subdued scenes to almost turn into a 2.0 surround experience.
EXTRAS ^ In more marketing hyperbole, the DreamWorks marketing team proclaims that this DVD features “11 hours of extras!” Well, it doesn’t. Let’s just get that out of the way. But what is included is enough to not only confuse but provide hours of entertainment from these two discs.
Firstly the animated menus for both discs are all newly done and are very cool. Props go to DreamWorks animation for providing these little gems of comedy.
Shrek In the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party ^ Appearing on both discs, this is actually an extended ending (thankfully not tacked on the end of the film) but isn’t labeled as such. Anyway, it ends up being a laugh fest of the highest order. Various characters take over a karaoke stage and perform such modern classics as “Baby Got Back.” This three minute feature will provide laughs every time it’s seen and is recommended for a couple of viewings at the least.
Disc One ^ This disc, featuring the pan-and-scan version of the film, is obviously geared toward the younger DVD fanatics. Most of the adult-oriented features are kept on disc two.
Creating a Fairy Tale: The Making of Shrek ^ This 23-minute EPK (Electronic Press Kit) is fluff, but surprisingly good fluff. DreamWorks knows full well that we’ve all sat through these promotional extravaganzas and most of them tend to be boring as hell once you see the film. The difference here is that they understand the format and know that even if you’ve seen the movie, some things are still nice to find out about, whether it be the production, animation techniques, or how the voice work was accomplished. While it only skims the surface and never gets to the “meat” of the production (this is an EPK folks), there is enough good stuff here to warrant a half hour of your time.
DWK: Dreamworks Kids ^ A section that includes links to Favorite Scenes and two Music Videos: One for Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer” and the Baha Men’s “Best Years of Our Lives.” There is a short making-of for the Baha Men video recommended for masochists only; yes, it’s that bad. Some Games are also available, five to be exact: “Rescue the Princess,” “Dress Up The Gingerbread Man,” “Character Morph,” “Mirror Mirror On The Wall,” and “Shrektacular Trivia.” Most of these are harmless time-wasters, and the majority can be passed over. The trivia game is too simple; the character morph is too boring. Mirror Mirror is a Magic 8-ball-ish game that you could have some fun with, but again, these don’t have much longevity.
Cast and Filmmaker Biographies ^ While the Filmmakers get text bios, the characters have two-minute “On the Set” interviews that are surprisingly funny and well done. These are suggested viewing.
Finishing out the first disc are the Production Notes (you’ll find the same ones in the booklet included in the case) as well as a Teaser Trailer for Dreamworks’ “Spirt: Stallion of the Cimarron.”
Disc Two ^ Now this disc is definitely geared towards the film geeks in all of us with great behind the scenes and making of material that the kids just wouldn’t be interested in.
Screen-Specific Commentary with producer Aron Warner and directors Andrew Adamson and Vicki Jensen ^ This is a run-of-the-mill commentary but nonetheless proves a techno-geeks delight. The three go from start to finish on how the film was made and what was required to make it. Some of the best stories come from the direction the story had to take and the changes required for certain scenes, set pieces, and in-jokes. The problems start when the dead space gets a little too frequent and they discuss, in-depth, the CGI process and what’s required for a film of this scale to be produced that way. An informative listen but it needs to be a little more upbeat and funny to be a real must-listen.
The Tech of Shrek ^A behind the scenes look into the technical aspects of the groundbreaking CGI used for
“Shrek,” this is an interesting and well done feature that will warrant a few viewings for those interested in computer animation. Getting deep into the heart of models, programs required to make such models, and the artists behind this landmark work, nary a stone is left unturned and the half hour feature passes all too quickly.
Dubbing Featurette ^ Sometimes humor comes from the strangest places, such as trying to nail the comic genius of Eddie Murphy in French and Italian. A hilarious diversion, I just wish it were longer than three minutes.
Storyboard Pitch: Deleted Scenes ^ In what is probably my favorite feature on the DVD, artist David Lowry walks us through three different deleted scenes: “Fiona’s Prologue,” “The Deal,” and “Fiona Gets Them Lost.” There are two different viewing options: you can watch the man act out the scene, pitching to a room of artists and what could be studio execs, or you can simply see the storyboards on Angle 2 with Lowry’s narration. The deleted scenes are nice but ultimately useless, though I did enjoy Fiona’s Prologue, which told how her curse was attained.
The same Cast and Crew Biographies and Production Notes are included from the first disc, and we also have the Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen.
Easter Eggs ^ I found a few of these floating around the disc, one that is local to both discs, and another limited to disc two. Here’s a hint: they’re both in the main menu, so you don’t have to dig too far.
OVERALL ^ 2001 could possibly be summed up by “The Summer That “Shrek” Dominated.” “Shrek” is a good, fun movie with a quick pace and solid comic performances. The animation is top-notch and the story is good even the second time around. Though it peters out in the third act there are enough solid antics and gags to keep you – and the kids – laughing for quite some time. The DVD is also excellent with enough options and special features to keep the most jaded collector enthused for hours.
OVERALL (DVD): * * * * ½ – 4.5 Stars ^ MOVIE: * * * ½ – 3.5 Stars ^ VIDEO: * * * * * – 5 Stars ^ AUDIO: * * * * – 4 Stars