Monday, June 16, 2014

#1,400. Shrek (2001)

Directed By: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz

Tag line: "The greatest fairy tale never told"

Trivia: Originally, Chris Farley was cast as the title character, and even recorded 80-90% of the dialogue before dying unexpectedly in 1997

I first caught Shrek during its theatrical run, when my family was vacationing in Wildwood, New Jersey. Deciding against spending another afternoon on the beach, we drove into Cape May, and after doing a little shopping headed over to the Bayshore 8 theater (which isn’t there anymore) to see a movie. It would be our youngest son’s first experience watching a film on the big screen (he was two at the time), so my wife and I settled on Shrek, and as we handed our tickets to the usher, he looked down at them and smiled.

Keep an eye out for the ‘Muffin Man’ scene”, he told us. “It’s hilarious”.

He was right… it was. But then, most of Shrek made us laugh... a lot!

Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) is a happy ogre. Aside from being one of the most feared creatures in the forest, he owns a prime bit of real estate (for an ogre, anyway): a messy swamp, complete with a mud bath and all the bugs he can eat. 

His serenity is threatened, however, when a slew of fairy tale creatures moves into his domicile, having been banished there by Lord Farquard (John Lithgow), who tossed them out of his kingdom. With a chatty donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, Shrek sets off for the kingdom of Duloc to get his swamp back, and once there makes a deal with Lord Farquard: if Shrek rescues the Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who has been locked away for years in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, Lord Farquard will give him the deed to his swamp. 

With Donkey’s help, Shrek manages to free the Princess, and heads back to Duloc to present her to Lord Farquard, who intends to marry her. During the return journey, however, the normally reclusive ogre develops feelings of his own for the beautiful princess, who, as it turns out, is hiding a pretty big secret of her own.

Produced by Dreamworks, Shrek plays like a twisted fairy tale, with an ogre as the hero and a vertically challenged Prince as the villain. More than this, though, it’s a marvelously inventive comedy, with vibrant animation and some incredibly endearing characters. Myers is spot-on as Shrek, sporting a Scottish accent that somehow fits the character to a “T” (a co-worker once told me that, while she was watching Shrek, she couldn’t stop thinking of Fat Bastard, yet another Scot portrayed by Myers in the Austin Powers series. Oddly enough, now, whenever I re-watch those movies, I can’t stop thinking of Shrek). 

In support of Myers, John Lithgow is at his maniacal best as Lord Farquard, who, despite being the heavy, never fails to bring a smile to our face; in the above-mentioned “Muffin Man” sequence, Lord Farquard is torturing a Gingerbread Man, trying to extract information. Diaz is also well-cast as the Princess who proves to be much more interesting than standard, run-of-the-mill animated royalty. THat said, the character who will make you laugh the hardest is Eddie Murphy's Donkey, the motor-mouthed sidekick who, from the word “go”, is a thorn in Shrek’s side. One scene in particular, when Donkey and Shrek are approaching the tower to rescue Fiona, had me chuckling uncontrollably for about five minutes. 

Along with the laughs, Shrek also provides a few genuinely touching moments, most dealing with the budding romance between Shrek and the Princess; a late montage, set to Rufus Wainwright’s soulful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, is particularly moving. But it's the comedy that will stay with you. This film actually gets funnier each time I watch it! 

Shrek is one of my 5 favorite animated movies of the 21st century, and I predict it will occupy a spot on that list for many years to come.

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