Over the past few years, computer animation has gained increasing popularity in movie studios. "Toy Story" was the trailblazer that started this craze, combining remarkably lifelike animation with heart and humor. One would think that as more and more completely computer-animated films were released, originality would be lost to incredible realism and snazzy effects. That assumption couldn't be more wrong. In fact, computer-animated movies have risen to a much higher level than most films animated traditionally. What would you think if I told you that one of the best of these films featured a love affair between a talking donkey and a dragon, an ogre who belches to show appreciation, and an exploding bluebird?
These delights and more are exhibited in "Shrek", DreamWorks's wickedly funny kick-in-the-butt to the average fairy tale. Mike Myers is Shrek, an ogre who wants nothing more than his privacy. Hoards of fairy-tale creatures invade his swamp, much to his dissatisfaction. These are exiles from Lord Farquaad's (John Lithgow) kingdom, who has banished all of the creatures making his kingdom "imperfect". But as a magic mirror points out, it isn't a kingdom until he is a king. And without a bride he is only a prince. The one he seeks is Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). She sits alone in a tower guarded by a fire breathing dragon, waiting for true love's first kiss... and Shrek doesn't want anything to do with it. But the only way to get these annoyances out of his swamp is to overrule Farquaad. So he journeys to Farquaad's kingdom, and cuts him a deal: Princess Fiona for his swamp.
And thus begins the wonderful adventure that is "Shrek". One character I didn't mention in the synopsis was "Donkey", played by Eddie Murphy. The marriage of Eddie Murphy and animation is a match made in heaven. Not since Robin Williams played the Genie in "Aladdin" have I heard a more perfect voice casting. Murphy's voice fits Donkey like a glove, and the result is hilarious. Murphy is a very gifted comedian, and I would love to see (or rather, hear) him in more animated films.
Normally such a phrase would be reserved for a live action film, but it is evident that all of the actors in "Shrek" have great chemistry. The voice acting embodies the same subtleties as one would expect from live actors. Mike Myers plays Shrek as an ogre with a heart of gold. He looks ugly, smells bad, and sometimes acts nastily, but all he really wants is for people to accept him for who (not what) he is. Donkey finds the same problem in that fire breathing dragon, who becomes a great help later on in the story. Princess Fiona is sympathetic to Shrek's pains, even though she was a perpetrator earlier on.
What makes "Shrek" so wonderful is how it stays true to fairy tale form. "Shrek" inhabits and follows the rules of the world it parodies; such is the difference between slapstick and satire. There are many hilarious jokes that seem to come from the days of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. The animators of "Shrek" know their stuff, for the timing is right and the pratfalls are well handled.
Of course, the animation is beautiful. "Shrek" is the next great leap into the world of computer animation, with characters that surge with life. Ultra-realism normally wouldn't have a place in fantasy, but it serves as a way for some viewers to more easily accept some radical goings-on. The landscapes are also incredible, giving "Shrek"'s creative setting an exquisitely real feel. But of course, style is no substitute for substance. "Shrek" could have been incredibly boring had it only been showcase of CGI. Thank goodness "Shrek" isn't that at all, but one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time.