Ogres Are Like Onions: Shrek

Shrek film poster

Yes, Wanderers, you have again got the pleasure of my company for the GUST this issue, and we’re going on an adventure of epic proportions with Shrek. Shrek is based on the children’s book by William Steig, and features a large, green ogre with a bit of a people problem.

Wanderers, if you have somehow in the past 12 years of Shrek-ness managed to avoid seeing Shrek, I’ve kept this issue’s review as spoiler free as possible.

In this fully computer-animated fantasy from the creators of Antz, we follow the travels of Shrek (Mike Myers), an ogre who enjoys a life of solitude. Living in a far-away swamp, he is suddenly invaded by a hoard of fairy tale characters, such as the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs, and Three Blind Mice, all refugees of their homes who have been shunned by the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). They want to save their homes from ruin, and enlist the help of Shrek, who is in the same situation. Shrek decides to offer Lord Farquaad a deal; he will rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who is intended to be Farquaad’s bride. Accompanying Shrek on his adventure is the faithful but loquacious Donkey (Eddie Murphy), who has a penchant for crooning pop songs. The two must face various obstacles in order to locate the Princess, but they find their world challenged when she reveals a dark secret that will affect the group.

Wanderers, this is not your average family cartoon. Shrek is jolly and wicked, filled with sly in-jokes and yet somehow possessing a heart.

The movie was so long in the making at DreamWorks that the late Chris Farley was originally intended to voice the somewhat-grouchy ogre in the title role. All that work has paid off: The movie is an astonishing visual delight, with animation techniques that seem lifelike and fantastical, simultaneously. No animated being has ever moved, breathed or had its skin crawl quite as convincingly as Shrek, and yet the movie doesn’t look like a reprocessed version of the real world; it’s all made up, right down to, or up to, Shrek’s trumpet-shaped ears.

Voice-overs for animated movies were once, except for the annual Disney classic, quickie jobs that actors took if they were out of work. Now they are starring roles with fat pay checks, and the ads for Shrek used big letters to trumpet the names of Myers, Murphy, Cameron Diaz (Fiona) and John Lithgow (Farquaad). Their vocal performances are nicely suited to the characters, and Murphy in particular has emerged as a star.

Much has been written about the movie’s technical expertise, and indeed every summer seems to bring another breakthrough on the animation front. After the three-dimensional modelling and shading of Toy Story, the even more evolved Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life and Antz, and the amazing effects in Dinosaur, Shrek unveils creatures who have been designed from the inside out, so that their skin, muscles and fat move upon their bones instead of seeming like a single unit. They aren’t realistic, but they’re curiously real. The artistry of the locations and setting is equally skilled – not lifelike, but beyond lifelike, in a merry, stylized way.

Still, all the craft in the world would not have made Shrek work if the story hadn’t been fun and the ogre so lovable. Shrek is not handsome but he isn’t as ugly as he thinks; he’s a guy we want as our friend, and he doesn’t frighten us but stir our sympathy.

And of course, if you couldn’t get enough of him in Shrek, there’s always Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Shrek Forever After.

Wanderers, this is no hard-hitting drama, but I challenge you not to sit down in front of it and fall in love. So, why should you watch it? Because it’s frankly hilarious in all the right (and wrong) places. Because the soundtrack is simply fabulous. And because it’s one of my personal favourites.

Hannah Carter (wishes she had her own far-away swamp to hide in, sometimes)

This entry was posted in Film/Movie, GUST, Issue Thirty-Seven, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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