Sunday, July 01, 2001
‘Shrek’, it’s funny, it’s cute, it’s clever; a modern style fairytale with enough gags to please both the kids and the grown-ups in the audience, it offers an alternative view of dragons, princesses and ogres, topped off with amazing animation. I’m still marvelling over the texture of Eddie Murphy’s fur, and it’s not often you get to write that line.
The film’s very careful to underline the message that you should take people as you find them, and not get caught up in assumptions about perfection. So the hero is ugly, the dragon just wants some love, and the beautiful princess burps and kicks butt.
The evil Lord Farquand is shown to want everything picture pefect, so he banishes the fairy tale freaks in favour of a perfectly manicured, thoroughly homogenized kingdom. There are many digs at Disney thoughout the film, and it’s not hard to read his shiny city as a sanitized Disneyland.
And of course he doesn’t really love the princess, he just wants to marry her because that’s what ne needs to be the perfect king. However, she’s not quite what she seems – he might not be so delighted if he heard her singing voice, and certainly if he saw her after dark.
The ending of the film – which most of the grown-ups will see coming – underlines the notion that it’s not about looks, it’s what’s inside that counts (although they still get the lovely Cameron Diaz to do the voice of the princess), and even though it’s billed as an anti-fairy story, we still get a happy ending.
Along the way there are some great one-liners, including an unimpressed knight offering a paltry bounty for the old man who turns in Pinocchio – ‘five shillings for the possessed toy’, and a pretty good soundtrack – who would have though Leonard Cohen would turn up in a summer animated comedy?
But, and here I’m probably reading too much into a kids’ film, it’s actually not as right-on as it thinks it is. Eddie Murphy still gets to play the familiar black sidekick role, even if the hero’s green and has a dodgy Scottish accent.
And no matter how much Shrek loves the princess, he doesn’t get to live with her as a beauty, she has to become ugly(ish) before he’s allowed to marry her. The lesson’s supposed to be ‘love conquers all’, but it comes out like ‘ugly people should only breed with other ugly people.’
And despite all the stuff about not making assumptions about people before you really know them, the main reason for disliking Farquand appears to be that he’s short. There are a lot of cheap shots about this, and John Lithgow is largely wasted, except in the great gingerbread man torture scene (which should have been much longer – I was imagining a whole ‘Reservoir Dogs’ scenario in my slightly sick mind).
But despite those quibbles, it’s good summer fare and if you feel a bit sheepish going into a kids’ film without a kid, see if you can borrow one for the afternoon.