For my younger readers, and considering some of the language that I use on this site you probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway, you have to know that back in the mid-2000s Mike Myers was one of the Hollywood A-List Stars. He had massive successes with Austin Powers and Wayne’s World, (to name but a couple of things) plus he seemed genuinely funny with a likable personality. Nowadays he has pretty much disappeared from our screens, his decline happened slowly but I am not going to talk about that today, today I am going to talk about a film that went on to become one of his biggest hits…Shrek
Now you may remember that I have touched upon this topic in past reviews, that DreamWorks started off by doing poor imitations of Pixar films, where there was a great and charming Pixar film, there was a hastily made cash-in by DreamWorks which always had a strong A-List cast behind it, but lacked any of the colour or charm or creative characters or engaging storylines or…you know what I could go on and on…the point is that 2001 gave audiences what I think was a rarity from DreamWorks, a film that was actually pretty decent that boasted a celebrity voice cast but could challenge some of Pixar’s work.
Before I continue I’ll give you the lowdown on what is happening in the fairytale land of…er…fairytales…
Shrek (Myers) is an ogre that lives in a swamp and basically just wants to be left alone, occasionally people with torches and pitchforks arrive at his door, but all it takes is a little roar and off they run. Meanwhile the short ruler of Duloc, Lord Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow) is rounding up all fairytale creatures, one of which is a talking donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) that escapes his captors eventually running into Shrek. Not long afterwards Farquaad dumps all of the fairytale creatures he has captured in Shrek’s swamp.
Shrek and Donkey travel to Lord Farquaad’s town to confront him, it is here that Farquaad and Shrek make a deal, if Shrek is able to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a castle protected by a dragon, then Farquaad gets to be King and Shrek gets his swamp back.
Donkey and Shrek head off to rescue the princess, but liberating her from the dragon’s keep is not the only thing that the three have to contend with as they encounter various characters from fairytales. Shrek also finds that he starts growing closer to the princess who has got a pretty big secret to hide…
Like I said this was the first film that actually challenged Pixar and it is pretty easy to see why, the voice cast are all perfect, and with the exception of Myers’ Scottish accent wavering a few times they are all fun to listen to. John Lithgow is a particular highlight as Lord Farquaad. He has that especially suitable laugh that comes with a character that is completely and utterly self-obsessed and reminds me more than a little of another character that Lithgow played in the 1990s comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun
I like how many fairytale characters it manages to parody without actually being disrespectful to the original source material, Robin Hood pops up believing that Fiona has been captured by Shrek and is in need of rescue. The number of references are huge with Dumbo being in there along with various other Disney features. Now whilst I cannot honestly say that anything really made me laugh out loud even I have to admit it is fun to see some familiar characters made the source of fun. In addition the numbers of characters on show here is hard to keep track of…there’s Pinocchio, the three blind mice, the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, the Seven Dwarfs, and so many others. They are crammed in but none of them distract from the story or feel like they don’t belong in the film, which works well.
There are several actions sequences plus a number of songs that never seem out of place and serve to add more life to the animation on screen.
The main idea behind Shrek is that the ogre is now the hero and whereas in many films the ogre or the giant or whatever is the bad guy, that is not the case in this story, yes you could roll your eyes and go “Right, so ogres are just misunderstood…” but it is a valid point. In the fairytales Jack steals from the giant and kills him, yet Jack is the hero and the giant is bad because he is a giant, in most fairytales the downtrodden damsel is recued and instantly falls in love with the heroic prince who saved them. That particular trope is here but at least it takes Shrek and Fiona a full two days to fall in love with each other rather than it happening immediately.
So, good story, fun characters and Eddie Murphy is obviously having a ball playing Donkey who pretty much talks none-stop, however, as a villain Farquaad isn’t great.
Don’t get me wrong I am a fan of John Lithgow mainly from watching him playing the idiotic High Commander Dick in 3rd Rock from the Sun, but as far as I can tell, Farquaad’s only crime is that he gathered up all the fairytale creatures in his land and exiled them to Shrek’s swamp. He wants to marry Fiona so that he can become King but Fiona is just sitting around in her castle awaiting her true love to come save her. If Farquaad had done that instead of sending Shrek then she would have married him without question. As motivations go wanting to become King is all well and good but with the exception of torturing the gingerbread man for information about where the other fairytale creatures are hiding we don’t see him doing anything bad. Yes he is clearly a self-obsessed ruler as he isn’t willing to put himself in harm’s way to rescue Fiona but Duloc is clean, tidy, the citizens aren’t oppressed or made to work as slaves, so I’m not sure why they are all so pleased when he gets his comeuppance at the end of the film. If you’re going to do a story like this then the villain needs to be suitably charismatic but also diabolical, Scarr in The Lion King murdered his brother, Jaffar in Aladdin used mind-control on the Sultan and tried to murder Aladdin, if you are going to have a villain then have a villain that is prepared to do whatever is necessary to get what they want.
Farquaad is short…that’s it…he’s short.
Is that it???
Yes, very funny Shrek, very funny.
But there isn’t much more to him than his stature, he doesn’t kill any of the fairytale creatures, he exiles them, so for that does he really deserve to get eaten alive at the end?? I don’t think so, wouldn’t exiling him have been a more fitting punishment or him being arrested or ending up in a spoof of the It’s a Small World ride from Disney?? I make that link because the information booth in Duloc has a very similar song to the tune in the ride (I know because I have been on it)…I just don’t think he needed to be eaten alive for the crime of marrying someone who would have been happy to marry him if he’d been the one the rescued her in the first place.
For a film that takes the piss out of a lot of the classic fairytale stories the idea that Shrek manages to fall in love with Fiona after a couple of conversations and their return walk through the forest is pretty much textbook. Still the film is bright and colourful enough to keep the audience engaged, Fiona is quite feisty, and everyone around him taking one look at him and immediately assuming Shrek is a mindless monster has worn him down to the point where Shrek likes his isolation.
On the whole there is a lot to like about Shrek and whilst I cannot say that I was bowled over by it when it first came out as a lot of people were, I can see that it did set the bar in DreamWorks becoming an animation force that had the capability to stand up to Pixar. I am a little biased because as I write this review I have seen the other Shrek films and liked the second one soooo much more than this one, but it isn’t really fair to judge this film compared to its sequel. I’ll give Shrek a Thumbs Up, yes there are some issues but the characters are entertaining, the world is pretty colourful and it does leave you with the smile on your face at the end of it.
6.5/10 – My Thumb rating notwithstanding, I was honestly not as overwhelmed by Shrek as people I knew, the sequel was really good, but on the whole I didn’t think this film was as good as it could have been. If you’re going to make a good villain then make a good villain, and sadly Farquaad is just not a very good villain so our hero’s don’t have anyone fun to go up against.