Dream Works SKG
Hand-drawn animation is so 20th century. Based on the massive success of computer-animated movies like Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Antz, and A Bug's Life, Hollywood studios are increasingly churning out digital cartoons and second guessing hand-drawn projects. Prepare to see more movies that look like Shrek, and fewer that look like the splendid The Iron Giant, which was a box office failure.
As animation, Shrek is nearly as remarkable as its predecessors, and bodes well for where the form is going visually. But on every other level, this summer's success story ($200 million and counting) is an oxymoron at best. Shrek suggests that digital animation features could be going the way of the action adventure movie -- great looking and profitable, but brainless.
DreamWorks SKG, the studio behind Shrek, sets up the movie as a parody of the Disney machine. There are a billion Disney references, both to Disney's cartoons and to Disney World. Presumably, the references are supposed to be a witty way for DreamWorks to say that they're offering something new and better than tired old Disney. But Shrek is neither witty nor new, nor better. It's a direct rip-off, and it makes tired old Disney look every bit the reigning animation champ.
The title character is a disgusting ogre (voiced dispassionately by Mike Myers) who farts and burps his way through the first scene. He lives alone and likes it that way. No one understands him, so he shuts everyone out of his life. He doesn't know how to accept himself for who he is. (Disney rip-off.)
Soon, Shrek meets a wisecracking donkey named Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Donkey is annoying to Shrek, but he's hilarious, and we understand that he means well. (Disney rip-off.)
One day, characters from various fairytales -- the three blind mice, the seven dwarfs, and so on -- overtake Shrek's swamp when evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) vanquishes them from the kingdom. Shrek wants his privacy back, but the only way Lord Farquaad will agree to remove the characters is if Shrek journeys to a faraway castle to rescue Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz with as much intonation as a camel) so that the king can marry her. So, Shrek sets off, encountering misadventure after misadventure with his annoying buddy. (Disney rip-offs galore.)
In short, the plot, characters and themes are all carbon copy Disney. This is unfortunate if you are tired of Disney, as I am, and it is doubly unfortunate if the movie thinks it is improving upon Disney, as this one thinks it is.
What's worse is that Shrek is missing the two ingredients that make even Disney's most unimaginative cartoons work: charm and wonderful music. There is no charm to be found anywhere in Shrek -- we are never endeared to him or any other character, and couldn't care less about the plot. As for the soundtrack, it consists of bad pop songs such as "All Star" by SmashMouth. Not only are the songs bad, but some of them are played in their entirety while action takes place in the background, music-video style. This is a technique that hasn't been used much since Footloose, and with good reason.
Strangely, Shrek has gained the affection of a sizeable and growing audience. The theater I was in was filled with laughter, and folks applauded at the end. What they're so excited about, and why they're telling their friends, is a mystery to me.
Someone does need to one-up Disney and offer an alternative to its mostly stale repertoire, but this isn't it. Let's hope Matt Groening has a full-length cartoon feature in the works.