A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 380 – Shrek

Shrek – March 15th, 2011

I’ve always enjoyed a good twisted fairy tale. And there are plenty of examples out there. There’s Bubba, the Cowboy Prince, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Wolf Who Cried Boy. I could go on and on. It’s an entire genre unto itself and while this movie certainly did bring it to the big screen, it’s been around a lot longer. And like The Jolly Postman and its ilk, it doesn’t just take on a single specific story. It takes on the whole genre of traditional fairy tales and gives them a bit of a shake. Unlike the aforementioned story, however (which I highly recommend), this movie doesn’t just shake up the tropes and traditions. It sticks them in a blender.

The main character is the titular Shrek. He’s an ogre living alone in a swamp where he’s really quite happy. And then the local royalty, Lord Farquaad, decides to do away with anything in his kingdom that doesn’t fit his ideals of perfection. This includes pretty much any fairy tale type item or creature. Three little pigs? Yup. Seven dwarves? Yup. Fairies, gnomes, gingerbread men? All rounded up and exiled. And where do they go? You’ve got it – Shrek’s swamp. Of course Shrek isn’t happy about this and he sets off to demand that Farquaad evict them all and ends up set on a quest to rescue the princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a dragon. Followed by his trusty and talkative friend, Donkey, Shrek heads off to find Fiona and exchange her for his swamp.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything really when I reveal that Shrek and Fiona end up falling for each other but oh! No! They can’t possibly be together! Not a simple ogre like Shrek and a beautiful princess like Fiona! No! Never mind that Fiona is not your typical princess. Aside from being able to belch along with Shrek, she enjoys many of the things he does and oh, right. She can kick your ass. Obviously there’s going to be a misunderstanding and a last minute wedding interruption and really? The plot is not doing anything truly revolutionary when it comes to the basic points. Quest to save a princess, unlikely hero, evil royalty, secret curse, true love. But well, replace the curse with torture and you’ve also got The Princess Bride and half a dozen other fantasy movies. It doesn’t mean they’re carbon copies of each other. The key is in taking those elements and combining them in such a way that you get a new take on it all, and that’s what this movie does.

I really enjoy the character of Fiona. She’s strong and assertive by the end, willing to speak her mind or kick your butt. She’s not delicate or wimpy. She’s got some issues to deal with that explain why she was in that tower in the first place when she hardly needed a big burly man to come save her. And as the movie goes on she becomes more and more comfortable being herself instead of the sort of princess everyone’s always expected. It’s a heavy handed message, but I still like it and I like how it was done.

I also like the humor of the movie. Sure, there are tasteless jokes a-plenty, but there’s also a lot of just flat out ridiculous fairy tale parody, delivered wonderfully by Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow. The exchange between Gingy the gingerbread man and Lord Farquaad, dramatically doing the Muffin Man bit, cracks me up every time. Every time the movie refers to something specific and then turns it upside down, I laugh. It’s got some dated jokes, but so what? It’s also got stuff that’s timeless because it’s all based on stories that have been around for ages. Speaking as someone who does a whole five week story time series with “fractured fairy tales”, I can say with confidence that kids get this sort of thing. And adults get it too. There’s more than enough double layered stuff in here to entertain both audiences.

Overall, it’s just plain fun to watch and I really do love the ending. It’s a great movie for a wide age range to watch, which is something I appreciate, working where I work. And it’s based on a children’s book! It even says so in the closing credits! “Based on the book by William Steig.” I dare you to go find the book. And I don’t mean the novelization of the movie, which is so bizarre to me since it’s based on a book in the first place. I mean the original. The picture book. Because this movie? Is a great example of taking a book’s concept and running it so far afield it’s almost unrecognizable, but in a good way. Because the book? Is so not the movie. But the movie? Takes exactly what cues were necessary from the book. And I applaud that.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shrek

March 15, 2011

Shrek

I really enjoy the Shrek movies. Especially this first one. These movies are the main tent-pole of the Dreamworks SKG animation studios. Sort of the Dreamworks equivalent of the Toy Story movies. Although they don’t get better with each iteration the way the Toy Story movies do. They are, however, playful, clever, funny and even touching.

The story here, a fractured fairy tale about an Ogre given a quest to rescue a princess, is not really important. Indeed the movie has a sort of loosely plotted feel that comes of having too many writers. (It has seven different screenwriting and “additional dialog” credits.) There’s one particular moment in the film that illustrates this perfectly. Right after all the fairy tale creatures that have been rounded up by Farquaad’s men show up in Shrek’s swamp, where Farquaad has exiled them, there’s a scene of Farquaad torturing a gingerbread man to fin out their location. It’s a clear example of scenes from different scripts jammed together into the same final product. And you know what? In spite of the fact that it doesn’t make any sense at all it’s perfectly alright with me because it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it is funny. The jokes are far more important than the plot.

The jokes are numerous and funny. Mostly this movie is a big wet raspberry to Jeffry Katsenberg’s previous employers at Disney. From the very start it is filled with friendly jibes aimed at the Disney collection and it features characters based on everybody from Pinocchio to Snow White to Peter Pan. Lord Farquaad has declared that he wants his kingdom of Duloc to be a perfect place and has set about rounding up all the various fairy tale creatures that inhabit the magical kingdom. It’s the perfect opportunity for spoof and good natured ribbing and I enjoy every moment of it. Even better is when Shrek eventually reaches the perfect kingdom of Duloc and finds that it has qeue lines, big headed mascots, gift shops and an animatronic information kiosk that sings about the town in a manner quite reminiscent of Disney’s “It’s a Small World.”

So the plot may be non-sensical but the writing is sharp and clever. The other major draw for me to this movie is the wonderful animation on display. It’s not just that the tools available to the Dreamworks animators were cutting edge and the models are detailed and impressive. Oh, I appreciate the shaders used to give hair its sheen and shin pores (many of which can be seen rendering in real-time in Dragon Age II which I have been playing a lot today) but the actual animation itself is what I’m talking about here. The animators do a fantastic job of getting a real and funny performance from the rubbery CGI puppets they had to work with. There are a number of moments in the movie where Fiona or Shrek will pull a face and it just sells the character for me. (The look that Donkey and Shrek exchange behind Fiona’s back when she’s cooking them breakfast for example. It’s great.)

Then there’s the voice cast. Eddie Murphy can often get on my nerves, but here he’s brilliantly cast as a character that gets on everybody’s nerves, and it’s perfect. Mike Myers is charming and funny and even manages to give Shrek a tender side. Cameron Diaz does a great job expressing through her voice Fiona’s frustration that her fairy tale story is going so wrong. And John Lithgow plays a great bombastic power mad dictator.

This is a charming movie. A fun spoof of fairy tale conventions which may not have much in the plot department but succeeds brilliantly at making the audience laugh and even care about its peculiar characters. It even has a nicely non-Hollywood message about accepting your flaws and realizing that there’s more to a person than conventional beauty. Certainly enough other people must have been charmed as I was to result in the many sequels – which we’ll be reviewing over the next few days.

March 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment