THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


For months, I have been hearing inside buzz about Shrek, the new computer-animated fairy tale from Dreamworks. I became most intrigued after the owner of my local cinema (who had seen the film at the ShoWest convention) informed me that it absolutely lived up to the hype. And he was right. We live in a time when studio advertising departments go into overdrive convincing you they have made a film you must see. This time, it's the truth.

Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Shrek (Mike Myers) formulate their plan to save the princess
Mike Myers does the voice of Shrek, a foul-tempered ogre who just wants to live in his swamp and be left alone. That isolation is shattered when Lord Farquaad (voice of John Lithgow) banishes all fairy tale creatures from his kingdom and sends them to Shrek's swamp. Suddenly, the ogre finds himself sharing space with the likes of the Three Blind Mice and the Seven Dwarves. (When Shrek wants to go to sleep, he finds the Big Bad Wolf - still in grandma's clothing - in his bed.) Shrek confronts Farquaad, a "vertically challenged" dictator whose kingdom bears a suspicious resemblance to Disney World. You don't suppose Dreamworks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg had anything to do with this, do you?

Upon confrontation, Shrek receives an offer: rescue the beautiful princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from her dragon-protected dungeon and get the land back. (The shrimpy Farquaad, you see, is too chicken to rescue Fiona himself). Shrek agrees to the proposal and gets an assist from the wisecracking Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Donkey has nowhere to live; more than that, he kind of likes the ogre, even through ogres don't like to be liked. Needless to say, they do manage to free Fiona but she is not exactly happy about it. The princess believes that, like all fairy princesses, she is destined to be saved by her "true love" - a handsome prince. The green, chubby Shrek is not quite what she expects. Nonetheless, the two come to discover that they like each other's inner beauty. It seems as though love is blooming until events conspire to send Fiona into the arms of Farquaad.

What I like about Shrek is that it blends traditional fairy tale elements with hip, self-referential humor. The film has the usual components: nasty villain, beautiful princess, a moral about beauty being on the inside. Surrounding those traditional elements are jokes about other movies (The Matrix being one of them) and satiric jabs at pop culture phenomenon (e.g. Farquaad's Disney-esque kingdom). The character of Donkey also has a modern personality; at one point, he claims a need to enter therapy because the story's events are so traumatic. Even the Three Little Pigs get into the act by breakdancing at one point. I could fill an entire review with examples of the movie's humor, but I think it will do to say I laughed and smiled the whole way through.

I also sat in awe of the computer animation. It's been six years since Toy Story dazzled the world with this new format. Shrek is even better looking. Here's how good it is: even though the film deals with ogres, talking donkeys, and other things that are only products of an imagination, I forgot it was animated and felt like I was looking at the real thing. The level of detail is just staggering - from the lifelike sunflowers in a field to the hair inside Donkey's ears. If computer animation is this good now, just imagine what it'll be like in another five years.

The new technology is opening up entire worlds for moviegoers. Shrek is a prime example of this new movie magic.

( out of four)

Shrek is rated PG for mild language and some crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.
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