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and Vicky Jenson
In just the first few minutes of Shrek, yet another uneven computer-animation foray by Messrs SKG at DreamWorks, the film’s titular ogre takes an outhouse-rattling dump, wipes his enormous green rump with the happy ending of a picture book, passes gas in a pond (bringing numerous X-eyed fish to the surface), dredges up a chunky belch, and tugs an endless tendril of wax from his ear. The opening credits haven’t stopped popping up, but co-producer Jeffrey Katzenberg (the K in SKG and the high lord of that company’s animation department) has already proved that he’s yet to discover that elusive tightrope talent of keeping the wee ones wide-eyed and the parents amused without resorting to the cheap stuff. And when the kid-marketed Shrek isn’t stalled in the toilet, it’s often taking wicked, risqué potshots at the House That Walt Built and, more specifically, Head Mouseketeer (and Katzenberg archenemy) Michael Eisner. After his swamp is overrun by the evicted habitants (the Three Blind Mice, the Three Little Pigs, the Seven Dwarfs, et al.) of a neighboring fairy-tale land, the solitary Shrek (voiced by a broguing Mike Myers) reluctantly makes a deal with Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow): If the ogre finds a princess bride (Cameron Diaz) for the evil landlord of Duloc, then Farquaad (pronounced perilously close to “fuckwad”) will allow Mother Goose’s minions to come home. Farquaad’s fortress is an exaggerated version of the Magic Kingdom—”Do you think he’s compensating for something?” a character asks when spying the phallic castle—and the villain himself is an insecure little person who enjoys relaxing naked in bed and watching women frolic in his enchanted mirror. (Pay close attention and you’ll spot the hirsute Farquaad taking a lascivious peek under the covers.) Eisner isn’t the only one who gets skewered, however: Snow White may live “with seven other men, but she’s not easy,” Pinocchio is an effeminate “possessed toy,” and the Gingerbread Man shouts “Eat me!” as his legs are snapped off. But Shrek isn’t a completely crass endeavour: Although nowhere near as seamless as the Toy Story visuals created by Disney’s Pixar, the computer animation here is surprisingly detailed and fluid, especially a spectacular action sequence with a love-starved dragon (although the CGI humans still look and move like empty-faced PlayStation extras). And where Shrek blissfully separates itself from lesser DreamWorks cartoon fare (such as the cold, heartless Antz and the boring, preachy The Prince of Egypt) is with the character of Donkey, the ogre’s four-legged chatterbox sidekick, given life by a thoroughly inspired Eddie Murphy. Allowed brilliant improvisational rein, Murphy references everything from Superfly to Otis Redding to his own early-career comedy albums—and gives one of his funniest (and cleanest) performances ever. The second half of the movie is basically cucka-free as well, especially the crowd-pleasing wedding finale, which features Donkey crooning a karaoke version of “I’m a Believer,” and bitter singletons Cinderella and Snow White beating the hell out of each other for the bouquet. —Sean Daly