The title character of “Shrek” is an ogre voiced by Mike Myers speaking in a Scottish accent. This gregarious green lummox happily lives alone and likes it that way. When the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) begins a “fairy tale creatures” relocation program, Shrek’s life is thrown in disarray. Imagine every character from popular fairy tales like the three bears, Pinnocchio, the three little pigs, little Red Riding Hood, little Jack Horner, little Bo Peep, and so on, all sitting it out in an internment camp that just happens to be Shrek’s swamp homestead. Joining him for the ride is a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) who steals every scene as the funniest a*s ever committed to film. The two must rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a fire-breathing dragon and bring her to Farquaad who will marry her thus becoming king. Sounds simple enough, until a little romance begins to brew between Shrek and the stubborn princess.
While “Shrek” is aimed directly at kids, it’s far more adult than most of the successful Disney features of late. This should be no surprise as it comes from the same creative team who created Antz, basically an animated Woody Allen movie. “Shrek”‘s smart sensibility is all about the script and strong characterizations from Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz. The trio have the best chemistry since Han, Luke and Leia hit the screen. Murphy’s wiseass Donkey should have his own movie. All this hilarity would be for naught if the film didn’t have a heart and the unlikely relationship between Shrek and the Princess fills this need perfectly. To top it off, the soundtrack features a slate of recent pop songs that perfectly match each scene to the point where it seems as if the animators designed the scenes around the songs. There are no sappy musical numbers, just rocking pop songs that work in the context of the story. Bottom line: the story satisfies and the jokes avoid juvenile clichés.
What I found most entertaining were the film’s constant and none too subtle digs at Disney. It’s no secret that DreamWork’s chief Jeffrey Katzenberg left Mouse-schwitz (a popular slang term for the company that is often used by anyone who has ever toiled for the mouse) under bad circumstances. The evil Lord lives in a building whose architecture is strangely similar to the stark building occupied by Disney chief Michæl Eisner. The kingdom where the evil Lord rules also has a set of arcane laws that are not too far from Disney’s infamous and bizarre rules for their own employees. And the internment camp filled with fairy tale creatures looks like a roster of characters that have been in Disney cartoons in the past. DreamWork’s irreverent feature-length animated fairy tale takes digs at Disney while one-upping the mega-mouse corporation at their own game – making fantastic films for kids.