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IN SHORT: A Blast for "kids" of any age. [Rated PG for mild language and some crude humor. 81 minutes]
For all the nasty ogres out there who think that "the inner child" is the stuff and nonsense of fairy tales . . . stuff this one down your craw. A fairy tale for grownups with voice casting of actors who have performed similar solid roles with characters like the ones they are playing: John Lithgow as the arrogant bad guy, Cameron Diaz as the deceptively lovely lady with an iron core (think Charlie's Angels) and Eddie Murphy as a jackass.
We've been dying to write that line about Eddie since we first saw a work-in-progress version of Shrek two months ago. Murphy seems more relaxed in his animation work than in almost all of his live action gigs and, even with a character that is supposed to be irritating, delivers terrifically funny work. Last up in our quartet is star Mike Myers, who has always managed to work a sentimental, sympathetic streak into all of his character work. As a whole, Shrek works, as far as this grownup is concerned, because it turns every fairy tale stereotype on its ear. Prince Charming is a malicious li'l shrimp. The mean nasty ogre isn't and we've already tipped our hand about the helpless maiden.
Regardless of background, it seems to me that one of the memories-in-common most people share is that of being little kidlets, lifted up on mommy or daddy's lap, being read fairy tales out of a big book with big pictures. Now imagine that sense of wonderment on the big screen but heavily laced with humor that will fly over the head of any kidlet you lug along and hammer at your grown up funnybone until you plotz. All the traditional elements are present in Shrek: a Prince, a Damsel in Distress, an ugly Monster and a talking animal in a supporting role. Shrek never forgets where it's roots lie, even as it yanks every one of those roots out by its, er, roots. Our fair maiden, for example, has spent her entire life waiting for the storybook template to play itself out. When it doesn't all come together the way it is supposed to, one world falls apart and another one opens wide. That reveals the "moral" of the story which, like all fairy tales, is self-evident to grownups and a good learning experience for the kidlets. We know they learned. We lugged the kids along and their reports are below.
OK, once upon a time . . . Lord Farquaad of Duloc (John Lithgow), having determined that his Kingdom would be finer without the presence of Fairy Tale Creatures hath decreed that all such Creatures be exiled to the Swamp Land. There Shrek (Mike Myers), the mud-bathing, worm eating, earwax candle burning ogre, who seasons his martinis with eyeballs and lives in quiet solitude, may be suitably annoyed by their presence. Shrek, the mean green horrifying machine that he is, doesn't like the new neighbors at all -- solitude being part of his job description. He's even less enthralled with the talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) who has latched on to him like a barnacle to the belly of a ship after an accidental rescue from a horde of pitchfork wielding villagers. Discovering the source of his woe Shrek heads into town to tell Farquaad to get the fairies off his front lawn. But Farquaad has other problems.
Y'see it isn't just that the prince hates fairy tale creatures. He covets their possessions, like the world famous magic mirror that can tell him that his Kingdom is the finest in the land. Which, he is told, it isn't because the Prince has no Princess to make him a King. So, being too craven and cowardly to fight a fire breathing dragon like all good Princes are supposed to do, Farquaad dispatches Shrek and Donkey to rescue the fair Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), in exchange for fixing the fairy problem. Fiona has been waiting all her life for her one true love, her Prince Charming, to come to her rescue and deliver her first true kiss, which will break a curse laid on her head by a witch we never see. That's more than I need to tell you, but nothing that will wreck the story for any kid, large or small. As for the moral of the story, and the kidlet point of view, we turn the page over to those who we lugged to a screening, niece Sherri ("the Cutesy Critic") age 11 and her eight-year old brother Jeff. Cutesy first:
Lord Farquaad wanted to become king so he has to marry a beautiful princess so he wouldn't have to marry an ugly princess (his other choices were Snow White and Cinderella; Snow White was, like, dead and Cinderella was no good because she was a maid). Fiona was locked in a castle guarded by a dragon and Lord Farquaad was a coward and didn't want to go rescue her so he hired Shrek to do the dirty work. In return, Shrek got his swamp cleared out of all fairy tale creatures. He wanted his swamp cleared out because he wanted to be alone because he thought he was ugly. When he went to rescue Fiona he started to like her and Fiona liked Shrek but Fiona wanted to marry Farquaad because she thought he would be cute because he was a prince. And in the end they realized that you shouldn't judge things by their appearance.
As we wrote, the kid got the point. As for the eight year old:
Shrek was a good movie because it was better than the old fashioned stuff like Romeo and Juliet and stuff like that. The prince was mean. He broke the legs off the gingerbread man. Donkey was very talented and funny. The Prince wouldn't rescue the Princess because he was scared of the dragon. So he wasn't like a real prince. He was like a scaredy cat.
Jeff brings up an important point, which we never would have caught as a grownup person. Though we don't think it will cause problems for most kidlets, if you've got a tiny single digit in tow who believes in fairy tales, say around age 3, what happens to the Gingerbread Man may be upsetting. There's nothing more in Shrek that may upset a toddler. There's a lot that will make a grownup giggle deliriously.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Shrek, he would have paid...
Frankly, we could do without most of the fart jokes that are written into the story of Shrek. . . then again, we didn't notice most of 'em until the third time we sat through the movie, which should say oodles about how much we liked this 'toon.
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