Shrek took over 5 years to make because of continual script revisions to make sure that William Steig's children's tale would have something to offer adults. In that sense, Dreamworks has succeeded by adding enough bathroom humor to satisfy teens and young adults and sufficient spoofing of Disney to give adults some chuckles. What about the young kids?
Shrek works for them as well; the animation will hold their attention and the story has a good heart beneath some of the crude humor—the idea that beauty is much deeper than what you see on the surface. Fortunately, the script is smart enough not to over-sentimentalize this core message.
The script provides Shrek's biggest strengths, giving the inconsistent Eddie Murphy (as the ever-talking Donkey) the best material he's had to work with since 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. There’s a lot of in-jokes for people familiar with the world of Disney—the numerous fairy-tale characters popularized by Disney cartoons, the castle of the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) that could represent the Magic Kingdom with its queues, marked parking lot, and direct spoof of "It's a Small World." Other pop-culture items spoofed include pro wrestling, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, The Dating Game, and the Macarena (showing a bit how long it's taken to produce this film).
Headlining the voice cast is Mike Myers, more subdued than his Austin Powers persona but still giving Shrek a Scottish brogue. As a giant green ogre who lives in the swamp neighboring Dulac, Shrek lives comfortably. From his isolated spot he can easily scare off intruders and not worry about his ever-present flatulence or the heavy earwax build-up in his rounded ears. That is, until Lord Farquaad rids Dulac of all its fairy tale creatures. Suddenly, Shrek's swamp becomes a refugee camp and the ogre seeks relief—he makes a deal with the diminutive Farquaad, who seeks to marry the beautiful Princess Liana (voiced by Cameron Diaz) so that he can become King. Thus, the malformed Farquaad plays much like Richard III in this fable.
But this is not Shakespeare. Filled with cultural spoofs, Shrek carries on like a fractured fairy tale (remember the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) and maintains the standard motifs by undertaking a dangerous journey with a helpful sidekick. This time the Princess awaits in a mysterious castle surrounded by molten lava and protected by a massive flying dragon. Shrek< is pretty serious and sensitive about his appearance so Donkey gets most of the humorous lines (and why not; he talks five times as much as anyone else). And it appears that we are on the way to a Beauty and the Beast scenario.
The animation is well-done but remains familiar since we've already seen Toy Story and Toy Story 2 by now. The CGI was state-of-the-art and groundbreaking when Jeffrey Katzenberg and Dreamworks first proposed transforming Steig's book for the big screen, but other studios adopted the same techniques before Shrek could be released. The human characters may look a bit more realistic than their Disney related counterparts, but the animation is hardly groundbreaking. The major strength of Shrek lies with the charming and humorous script.
Even though I enjoyed Shrek, it didn't engage like Chicken Run and make me want to see it again on the big screen and grab my own copy of the DVD when it comes out. Perhaps parents of young children will feel differently—as long as they don't mind Shrek's hygiene and propensity for flatulence.