An ugly, big, green bloke and his smartarse donkey sidekick rescue a prissy princess from a lovelorn dragon for a self-obsessed lordling lacking in stature? And it’s a clever-clever parody-type thing? An animated fairy tale all about animated fairy tales? Tee-hee, how postmodern. Yes, but it works a treat.
Ever since Toy Story shookthe animation rafters, CGI’s awe-inspiring intricacies have become a matter of course. So, naturally, the work in this inverted fairy tale is a knock-out: humans with proper human faces, not bubble heads, actual furry fur and landscapes that hover delightfully between lush, 3-D, Oz-like backdrops and photo-realistic video game aesthetics. Yet it’s not the dazzle factor that impresses so much with Shrek, as the directors’ flare for storytelling on a sumptuous visual level, letting the script (based on William Steig’s book) do the talking.
And it’s one joyous miracle of a script (how is it that only animation writers seem able to do great comedy anymore?) doing the yakking. This is more than simply ex-Disney honcho Katzenberg taking sly potshots at his former employers; it’s a full-scale parody of the Mousedom’s chirpy ethic of old. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, every Andersen/Grimm fantasy is caught in a fusillade of affectionate piss-take (Farquaad’s rigid kingdom is a direct dig at Disneyland).
Like the Zucker spoof-principals, the film teems with incidental genius - we defy you not to bust a gut laughing at Farquaad’s interrogation of the Gingerbread Man, or the untimely arrival of the Three Blind Mice at Shrek’s hovel, or Robin Hood’s posse Riverdancing. Don’t panic, though, this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the whirlwind of gags, hinting that repeat visits may be in order.
Shrek genuinely offers something for all ages: fart jokes for the tots, WWF-style bouts and Matrix skits for the teens, while Eddie Murphy’s hysterical, jabbermouthed Donkey’s stream of psychobabbled relationship talk - for defensive ogre and attitudinal princess - is hip for grown-ups. Murphy hasn’t touched these comedy heights for years; his chorus of city-literate jive never allows the movie a flat moment.
There are weaknesses. Myers gives Shrek an inconclusive Scottish accent and seems strangely confined playing the straight guy. And when the story finally begins to wrap itself up, the counter-classic edge succumbs to predictable, sturdy, moral outcomes. Not to worry too much, though - the movie crashes out with a musical number boasting Donkey (with shades)’s soul-ribbed version of The Monkees’ I’m A Believer. Pinocchio this is not.