Shrek is a 2001 DreamWorks animated fantasy comedy film with the voice cast consisting of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. It is one of the company’s most successful films and it earned the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It is in my opinion, however, a rather overrated film that has its charms, but with the pop-culture references ruining it.
It is about an Ogre named Shrek who accompanied with a donkey must travel and rescue a princess in order to get his swamp back just for himself. Now, the story itself is a good one and it is a great twist in the end with a great message for children about beauty, being very progressive and different from other fairytale endings. And it makes fun of Disney fairytale films with great success, sometimes being very funny with a phenomenal commentary. But it is odd and frustrating for a film to make fun of something and end exactly the same way as the thing it made fun of. Yes, the ending is different in the appearance aspect of it, but it is still a happy ending and the entire storyline is predictable and revolves with a same formula taken from all those Disney films. The critics usually pinpoint that it is great how Shrek embraces and also ridicules those films, but to me it is frustrating as you can’t do both.
Now, for its references. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the film references, especially those aimed at Disney animated works. Those were all very well handled and appropriate story wise. On the other hand, I absolutely despised the pop-culture references of different modern songs. That was just awful on so many levels that it is needless to explain. But let me explain nevertheless. First of all, it is very annoying and such an approach is evidently aimed to please the adults and especially teens and geeks. That is a clever marketing ploy that I hate. Secondly, it naturally does not belong here. Those references to current pop songs do not mash at all with the Middle Ages fairytale setting and thus you have a jumbled tone to it that ruined the whole experience for me. But it is this movie that in the progress ruined many other animated films to follow as they repeated the same formula and thus ruined their own films. It is influential in the worst ways possible and I am angry with this film for ruining American animation to some degree.
The characters are great and the character development overall is stupendous here. Shrek is a good protagonist with typical problems, but with atypical irritated behavior that pleased me personally. Donkey is also very good and the two share excellent chemistry and are a terrific duo without a doubt. And although he can be annoying at times and a typical African-American stereotype, he still isn’t a heartless creature and he is great in relationships with other characters. Princess Fiona is excellent. Her introduction and those whole first parts are so funny as her character is a perfect parody of Disney princesses. But she is great for the twist she has and the overall mix between a typical Disney princess and a warrior-like strong woman is rather amusing to be honest. But the other characters unfortunately are a failure and just the emphasis on just our three protagonists is unfortunate as you get all three of them properly developed, but all the others don’t get their development which is frustrating as it has an abundance of supporting characters. But all those fairytale creatures just have a cameo with Gingerbread Man being the most memorable and the funniest. As for Lord Farquaad, he is a cliched, weak villain with a familiar goal and is the worst character undoubtedly.
Now, the voice cast is great. But no matter how great it is, I still have troubles with it mainly because it is a celebrity voice cast and once again a terribly influential approach. It also has Mike Myers as a protagonist and although he did a great job of course and his accent is superb, I never bought his voice in this role as I failed to connect the voice to the character. Eddie Murphy is naturally great and so funny providing a lot of pathos here. And Cameron Diaz is also surprisingly good in her role. All of the actors did a fine job, but I just wish that not all of them were famous actors and that the movie did not influence future films in that regard as well.
The animation in Shrek is very good. Granted, the backgrounds, while intriguing, are somewhat dated and definitely tell the age of the film as do the human characters. But some like Fiona are very well depicted and the animal characters are the standouts with Shrek and Donkey being best designed. The character design overall is Dreamworksy and weird, the kind of animation they would continue later on, but it is still somewhat original and suits the movie well. I also liked the landscapes and the mood colors were great as well.
The imagery is great, the soundtrack is annoying, but the direction is mostly good as is the acting of course. The tone is well handled and is mostly comedic, but thankfully has its dramatic heft. And I liked its romance as well and the movie has a heart which is definitely a great, unexpected development. And it is authentic in its parody, but frustratingly referential and influential. It is also rather well edited, although too fast paced at times. It is predictable, but the dialogue is solid and it is engaging from start to finish.
When I compare it to other DreamWorks flicks, it is in the middle, neither too good, nor too bad. And for the franchise, it is the best along with the second one as the fourth is weaker and the third is incredibly mediocre and just horrendous. It is better than the ‘Madagascar‘ franchise, but of course way too inferior to the ‘How To Train You Dragon‘ series. And as for its Oscar, it is of course entirely undeserved and I don’t know what the Academy was thinking awarding Shrek over ‘Monsters, Inc’. That was just a bad choice in their first year of this award and probably one of the worst mistakes they made in this category since.