It has an enchanted princess in a tower, guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. It has a big, green ogre with a Yiddish name. It has a donkey that not only talks, and not only sings, but sings the old Monkee’s song, “I’m a Believer.” It has an evil (but short) bad guy, kickboxing, a Robin Hood and Merry Men who perform an Irish Riverdance, potty humor, and some digs at Disney. And it has sensational animation, adventure, romance, and laughter – enough to make this one of the best movies of the year.
Shrek is a big, green ogre who lives happily alone in a swamp. But Lord Farquaad of nearby Dulac has a plan for creating the perfect kingdom, and that means getting rid of all of the fairy tale characters and sending them to “a designated resettlement community.” Soon, the three blind mice, the three little pigs, the gingerbread man, all the broom-flying witches, Pinocchio, and a talking donkey are all relocated to the swamp. Shrek is furious at the intrusion. He makes a deal with Farquaad, who needs to marry a princess to put the final touch on his kingdom. Shrek will rescue Princess Fiona and bring her to Farquaad, and Farquaad will give Shrek his swamp back.
The movie is a marvelous fairy tale, with a thrilling quest and a happily ever after ending. It has the great themes of enduring myths, about believing in yourself, being loved for the person you really are, and good triumphing over evil. It is also a delicious satire, tweaking all of our assumptions about ogres, princesses, rescues, and even fire-breathing dragons. The voice talents of Michael Myers (as the Scottish-burred Shrek), Eddie Murphy (as the talking donkey), Cameron Diaz (as Princess Fiona), and John Lithgow (as Farquaad) are all perfect. The computer animation is breathtaking, like nothing ever done before. The textures are stunning. The glass, fire, clouds, and water seem three-dimensional, and you will feel that the donkey’s fur almost brushes your hand. The animation has wonderful warmth and depth, but it also has a great deal of character and wit. The facial expressions and body language are such a treat that the audience can’t help thinking that if ogres and donkeys and don’t really look like that, they should.
Parents should know that this movie is rated PG, but it is right up at the limit of PG-13, with edgy humor directed at teenagers and adults. It is a shame that Hollywood finds it necessary to include this material in a movie that would be otherwise perfect family fare, but that is the economic reality of this era of moviemaking. You can’t have a major hit without selling tickets to teenagers, and teenagers will not go without some jokes worth sniggering at. They will be over the heads of most younger children, but parents should be ready for some questions. Parents should also know that it has some potty humor and some gross-out jokes. There are also some scary scenes with characters in peril, and some fighting. A bird explodes and its eggs are eaten, and a character loses a leg, but very few others get seriously hurt.
Families who see this movie should talk about the donkey’s statement that Shrek has “that kind of ‘I don’t care what nobody thinks of me’ thing.” Is it true that Shrek did not care what people thought of him? How can you tell? What did it mean to say that ogres are like onions? What does it mean to say that people have layers? Who in the movie is judged on his or her looks? By themselves or by others? Why does Shrek yell at the donkey when he is really angry about something else? Do you agree that “friends forgive each other?” Can you look up into the stars and see stories?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Ladyhawke” and “The Princess Bride.” Families with younger children will enjoy some of the books by William Steig, who wrote this story. My favorites include Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Brave Irene.