As family films have changed to appease jaded audiences, an emphasis has been put on dazzling kiddies while keeping the parents awake. As such, animated adventures have begun to evolve into a strange but appealing hybrid of old-fashioned fantasy and a sort-of postmodern self-awareness. The computer-generated PDI/DreamWorks feature Shrek arrived in the right place and time to capitalize on its ultimate expression of the new form.
This modern fairy-tale, adapted from the book by William Steig, reimagines Storybook-land, the all-purpose setting of fairy tales, as a crass empire whose evil, stunted Lord Farquaad would probably be called "Eisner" if producer Jeffrey Katzenberg could get away with it. Katzenberg, DreamWorks principal and scorned former Disney honcho, has made it his mission in life to supplant and "dis" Disney at every turn, so the fairy-tale freaks of the DuLoc empire and its environs play like a Disney farm team, while Farquaad's HQ is laid-out like the most familiar of theme parks . In the far-flung swamp, the ogre Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) vants to be alone, but he is inundated at every turn, by rampaging mobs from central casting, a back-talking donkey (Eddie Murphy), and finally, the full complement of aforementioned freaks.
To rid himself of those who invade his precious isolation, Shrek must collect the proverbial princess-in-a-tower (Cameron Diaz) and return her to face a wedding to Farquaad (John Lithgow). With Donkey in tow, Shrek collects the princess and heads back, but the mission includes plenty of adventure, yuks, and—but, of course—romantic "surprises."
Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicki Jenson make good use of bouncy pop music throughout and generally create a convincing illusion of cinematography. The animation is impressive, expressive and vibrantly colorful, and with its Princess Bride-like story and all-star voice work, Shrek is a smooth, consistent entertainment. Despite enormous critical support, it never breaks through to the peak of such modern animated classics as Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story (co-produced by PDI rival Pixar). Sorry, Jeffrey.
For moral (of-the-story) watchdogs, Shrek missteps notably. While taking pains to establish the inner beauty of the heroes, the film upholds the hoary anthropomorphism of old by constantly "belittling" the villain for being short of stature. Nevertheless, Shrek is clever, funny, and otherwise a charming spoof-- and fulfillment-- of children's entertainment.
The double-disc special edition of Shrek offers everything one could want and more. The image and sound are perfectly crisp, with the film presented in full frame on disc one, and the preferred widescreen on disc two. The extras are spread over both discs, with the newly-produced (and entertaining) "Karaoke Party" extended ending and extensively animated menus included on both discs.
Disc one also includes a featurette, animated character interviews (found with the cast bios), the 24-minute HBO First Look special "Creating a Fairy Tale World: The Making of Shrek," an impressively animated sneak-peek trailer for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and DVD-ROM features including games and "Shrek's Revoice Studio," which allows the adventurous type to be the voice of a favorite character in any of twelve scenes.
Disc two features a director's audio commentary, a 22-minute featurette on "The Tech of Shrek," a fun archive of technical animation goofs, a character design progression "reel," exclusive video game hints, and three deleted scenes presented as storyboard "pitches." The latter are delivered by animators, with the storyboards available via a separate "angle" (hint: angle one shows the storyboards in greater detail; angle two gives the better view of the animator's performance of the pitch).
The documentaries are highly informative, though they have a syrupy promotional flavor. The commentary is lively and gives a good sense of the long process of story structure, joke development, recording, animating, and finally presenting the film to the big-time likes of Spielberg and Katzenberg. All-in-all, this is a great, nicely priced, highly recommended DVD package.
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