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May 25, 2001

Shrek succeeds, even without Cartman's vitriolic rants

Lately I've found myself using the word "hip" quite often in talking about movies. Especially movies about the ye olde days, that aren't usually hip. A Knight's Tale was hip, and Shrek is hip. Perhaps the wielding of this word is due to my preconceived ideas of medieval period pieces as stale and tedious. However, these notions have begun to be reprogrammed in the past two weeks. Shrek not only excites a dead age, it applies new practices to the animated feature. The film is entirely computer animated, but it makes most of its strides with the script. One of the first big movies of this summer, Shrek is sure to emerge as one of the best when school starts up again.

To shatter any other preconceptions, Shrek is not a Disney production. In fact, it attempts to be the opposite, tackling tired formulas of recent animated features and turning them on their heads. The film opens with Shrek, the gigantic ogre with a heart of gold, ripping a page out of a fairy tale book and using it to wipe his ass. Not exactly The Little Mermaid. Throw in an interrogation scene between the evil Lord Farquaad and the gingerbreadman and the tone of this film starts to make more sense. The whole Disney empire gets a few jabs when Shrek has to maneuver through velvet rope and a turnstile to enter the Lord's Disneyland-like palace. This method of satire makes the movie unpredictable and very original; signaling a change in children's films where witty writing is just as entertaining as the animation.

Mike Myers lends a Scottish accent (reminiscent of Fat Bastard) to Shrek, a filthy, misunderstood beast who uses his ample supply of ear wax for candles. He is lonely and only pretends to be frightening and dangerous because he's afraid that no one will understand him otherwise. Shrek is a genuinely complex character, along with all the others, and the audience is given enough credit they are "burdened" with a real story that sends a needed message to kids that ugly characters also find happiness.

The plot manages to stay fresh and funny by balancing a story with a true moral and telling risky jokes for a children's movie (inflating a live snake and twisting it into the shape of a poodle). Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), the pint-sized ruler of the land of Duloc, realizes he must marry a princess in order to become a king. After the magic mirror on the wall plays host to "The Dating Game," the Lord rejects Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, and decides he wants Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) to be his bride. Shrek is chosen to rescue her from a fire breathing dragon after displaying his physical prowess in an impromptu WWF tag team match. Joining him on his journey is The Donkey (Eddie Murphy), an overly annoying Sancho Panza and my only real complaint with the film. Despite the satire, Shrek has exciting action sequences and graphics that surpass Toy Story; a well rounded film to say the least.

Besides finding a forum to trash on Disney's formulas, screenwriter Ted Elliot wrote one of the best Disney films, Aladdin. In that film he also stretched the boundaries of comedy in a children's film, albeit with the help and talent of Robin Williams as the Genie, by making the material current and just a bit too smart for kids to understand or be offended by. Elliot has his own talent for creating a canvas where no matter how many times he knocks down a preconception, the next setup/punch line still gets a laugh. The envelope is definitely pushed in Shrek with The Donkey and Shrek constantly speculating at the size of the Lord's penis. Granted, these exchanges are funny, but Elliot is smart enough to know that what makes it funnier is that the theater is probably half full with five-year-olds when you hear Shrek say, "Look at the size of his castle! Do you think he's trying to compensate for something?"

One of the funniest movies in recent years has been South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. There is just something about cartoons talking dirty that does it for me. Shrek does it for me too. It not only tells a great story that is beneficial to its younger audience, but also entertains their parents. Animation has, and is, slowly breaking away from being categorized as only children's entertainment. With empires like The Simpsons and South Park being among the most successful sitcoms ever, Shrek leaves its impression and influence on this genre.