Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Shrek (2001)



Who's in it?: Mike Myers (Wayne's World, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child), Cameron Diaz (The Mask, My Best Friend's Wedding, Charlie's Angels), and John Lithgow (The Manhattan Project, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Daddy's Home Two).

What's it about?: When a self-absorbed noble (Lithgow) forcefully relocates all the fairy tale creatures to a remote swamp, the ogre (Myers) who inhabits the swamp strikes a deal to rescue a princess (Diaz) in exchange for getting his privacy back.

How is it?: I always groan a little at the thought of watching a Shrek movie. My immediate associations are that the films are funny, but full of dated pop culture references and unattractive character designs (especially of the human characters). But then I watch one and remember why they're so popular.

I'll focus just on the first one for this entry, because I do plan to watch and write about the others, but while I still don't like the design of the human characters, the humor is much more personality-based and enduring than I ever remember and there's a lot of heart. There are a lot less fairy tale references in the first one, too. The fairy tale characters are used to kickstart the plot, but the film is really all about Shrek, his unwelcome sidekick Donkey (Murphy), and Princess Fiona. Also Lord Farquaad, who doesn't end up being much of a threat, but mostly it's about Shrek and Fiona's overcoming prejudices, expectations, and insecurities, with Donkey cheering them on.

There are some great fairy tale gags in the beginning though. I love Pinocchio's falsetto voice and his untrue insistence that he's a real boy. He's humorously annoying enough that I also love that Geppetto turns him over to Farquaad's men without a word. There's also a fun comparison between Snow White, Cinderella, and Fiona, with Fiona being the most desirable choice between the three (at least for the selfish, unfeeling Farquaad). The best gag though is undoubtedly the interrogation of the Gingerbread Man with the whole Muffin Man conversation.

But again, the whole movie is very funny to me, including the anachronistic references, but especially MVP Eddie Murphy's being funnier than he's been since the '80s. I still don't love the whole movie, but it ends up being super rewatchable.

Rating: 4 out of 5 gingerbread men.

3 comments:

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I remember not liking this one when it came out for its rather crass sense of humor, even though that was just surface for the character arcs going on underneath. No points for guessing which of those aspects were copied by every other animated film after this one came out.

This one seems to have put Disney on notice that they weren’t the only game in town because since then, any fairy tale film has to acknowledge or joke about its own tropes. (Enchanted feels like it was written immediately after Shrek). It also seems to have set the trend of every animated feature needing to copy Frank Capra’s ‘It Happened One Night’ were you have a sour hero escort a high society woman to marry some other guy only for the two opposites to fall in love over the course of the journey. This story was used in frequent secession with its use in Princess and the Frog, Tangled and Frozen. Those movies also lean heavily on calling out their own fairy tale tropes.

I could do with rewatching this movie again, because it really did have an impact it ways no one could have anticipated.

Michael May said...

Good point about the crassness of the humor. Like you, I read Shrek's early grossness as a starting point for character development, so I'm more patient with it than I usually am with that kind of stuff, but all the bug-squishing and earwax candle making does wear on me.

And I hadn't thought about it, but totally agree about the influence of the meta-commentary about fairy tale tropes. I don't suspect that this was an intended benefit, but I do believe that animated fantasy movies have benefited from the honest introspection about what they've been communicating. That makes Shrek important and useful all by itself (though I suspect that conversation would have been had at some point, regardless of who started it).

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Like any sub-genre it goes through stages of life cycles. After the initial introduction you get the imitators, then the parodies then the deconstructions that will present some new way of doing to same thing.

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