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Review by Nathan Davies

Technologically advanced, five years of development later, Dreamworks/PDI are back for round two, and this time they’ve brought Shrek.

Shrek is, quite literally, a monster of a film. A fairy tale monster in fact, being based on the illustrated children’s book by William Steig and the whole Brother’s Grimm tradition that has kept Disney in business for so long.

Lord Farquaad voiced by John Lithgow

In terms of plot, it follows the misadventures of a solitude seeking, foul smelling, ugly green ogre (the Shrek of the title, voiced by Austin Powers star Mike Myers) who is forced to save a princess from a fire breathing dragon in order to get his home back from outlawed fairytale squatters. However, to describe this film so simply is to do it a great injustice. In addition to the monster-as-hero reversal on which the story hangs, almost everything you usually take for granted in a fairy story is turned upside-down and played for laughs.

For example, where once there might have been a noble steed to bear the hero forth, here we have Eddie Murphy’s fast-talking, street-wise Donkey, and Cameron Diaz’s liberated Princess Fiona… well, let’s just say that she could use a few ornithology lessons from Pocahontas. Even the good old ‘Once Upon A Time…’ gets (quite literally) a toilet humour makeover.

Princess Fiona voiced by Cameron Diaz

What makes Shrek really shine, however, is not the number of gags it throws at you (I’m not complaining but they could have got more in there), but the breadth of the humour. This film has a ‘Universal ’ certificate, and it does indeed have something for everyone. Fart jokes and belching contests for the little ones, pop-culture references for the bigger kids and character driven humour and a magic mirror version of blind date for the adults.

Eddie Murphy provides the voice for the donkey

It all goes to show that Dreamworks have significantly improved their game since Antz came in second behind A Bugs Life. Another indicator of this is the way this film has been marketed. With all that Shrek has going for it; the laughs, the style, the cast (John Lithgow is perfect as the voice of the diminutive dictator Lord Farquaad), one would hope that it would have still been a success without the publicity, hype and line of complementary action figures.

However, the sad truth is that it would have probably been overtaken just as Antz was. Why? Because, like its predecessor, it would most likely be mistaken for a cartoon and thus lose at least a third of its audience to the misconception that such things are just for kids. Shrek is not a cartoon, but a CGI film, and a damn good one at that. If Dreamworks/PDI can continue to produce films like this and remain sensitive to the public perceptions of this fledgling digital medium then Disney had better watch out; when you’re at the top the only way you can go is down.

A stylish, often affectionate, sometimes biting parody of fairy tales in general and Disney in particular. Beautiful to watch and hysterically funny. Watch out for the balloon animals.

The best smartest funniest donkey in the world

© Nathan Davies 2001