Anyone who was a young kid in the early 2000s must’ve seen Shrek in theaters because what family wouldn’t take their children to see animated movies? Though this wasn’t the first movie I saw in theaters, this is one that was a favorite of mine right after I saw it, even getting excited after coming home and watching a commercial for it. And that also included only wanting the VHS tape for Christmas the same year, which comes to show how special this animated original hit was and still is now.
What’s the Story: Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) is a green ogre who lives a quiet life alone in his swamp with no trespasses of any kind. That changes when it becomes overrun by fairy tale creatures who have been banished by Lord Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow), who wants to be king of Duloc. To get his swamp back, a talking Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy) accompanies Shrek on a quest to rescue Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) after settling a deal with Farquaad from a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.
While being the fifth animated movie release from DreamWorks Pictures and the second CG film following 1998’s Antz, I’m sure many people forgot it loosely based this on William Steig’s 1990 picture book that was well-received by critics. Here’s a brief history of how it came to be. It took about ten years to make it a film adaptation. Steven Spielberg was attended to produce it after buying the rights to the book and planned to do it in the style of traditional animation through his company Amblimation. Chris Farley was going to be the voice of the main character and sources said he recorded his dialogue, but his death from a drug overdose in late 1997 made it impossible. But with all its changes that might’ve made this a challenging movie to finish, there’s nothing else to say about Shrek that hasn’t already been said before; it’s a great film that remains a childhood favorite after 20 years.
I didn’t know this when I was a kid, but it’s safe to say this was the cultural impact in the animation realm since you realize directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson would not follow the same footsteps of what Disney’s been doing during his renaissance era by throwing in elements of crude and parody qualities to make it offbeat. It would be unfair to compare the CG animation to what we’re seeing now in terms of high budgets and teams to make it happen. But judging this from 2001 standards, I can say it’s impressive without having been the same with its early competitor Pixar while saying some scenes have become slightly dated in the design of the characters.
As if that wasn’t enough, you couldn’ve asked for a better voice cast since it would be impossible to think of anybody else for these characters decades later. Did I know who anyone of them were at five years old? Nope, but I recognized them first because of this. Mike Myers had already established himself as a comic chameleon with his roles on television and movies. As Shrek, this is just another iconic character to always remember him by. A few times during the movie I completely forgot it was him do the voice since he became the character is own who’s this introverted person who must learn to open up to those around him. It was Myers’s idea to re-record his lines with a Scottish accent to improve his character, and the rest is history. But you can’t have a hero without a reliable funny animal sidekick along the way, which comes as Donkey. Murphy’s vocal performance as Donkey might just be the funniest character in animation history and one of his best characters he’s ever done. Period. Similar to providing the voice of Musha in Disney’s Mulan, it’s an animal that’s supposed to get on your nerves, but you still love him anyway, which makes the chemistry between him and Shrek work unusually as we see the beginning of this friendship.
And who would’ve thought Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona made for an unlikely companion as a princess with a dark secret? The progression of the relationship between her and Sherk started on the wrong foot, but getting the hook of what she’s gone through makes the scenes with the two of them bonding and almost falling in love help the story more despite knowing he’s not her Prince Charming. Her best moment that shows off she’s no one to mess with was when she fought off Robin Hood and his Merry Men. John Lithgow as the voice of the film’s villain, Lord Farquaad, wasn’t in it as much as I remembered. I wouldn’t say he even comes close to Fairy Godmother in the sequel, even so, a good villain that’s nonetheless able to be menacing.
We all know animated movies need to provide laughter for all who watch them, and this delivers on to make you crack up when it attends to. While the sequels went more into easy cultural references, a lot of the humor that I remembered liking back then is still here, but the funniest lines came from Murphy’s delivery of his dialogue. Watching this as an adult, it’s crazy how many jokes went over little kids’ heads and have some innuendoes that adults will understand in a matter of seconds. From Shrek thinking Lord Farquaad’s kingdom being big means he’s compensating for something or how Donkey isn’t ready to be in a physical relationship with the female dragon. That shows confidence in knowing the parents can get behind them. Would most of the jokes land today if it came out now? Not all of them, especially the short jokes that became tiring, but it seemed like they were taking their chances to make the audience laugh as much as they can.
Another element that helps this become a great movie is now is the soundtrack. I love a good soundtrack to accompany, and you have to appreciate how it fits well in this world without relying on original songs normally sung in Disney movies. While Smash Mouth’s “All Star” was used first in Mystery Men a couple of years back, Shrek made it more popular during the opening and has since become the titular song when thinking about the series as a whole. This was my first time hearing Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation,” which has now become one of my favorite songs. From The Proclaimers’ “I’m on My Way,” Rufus Wainwright’s great cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” to Smash Mouth’s cover of “I’m a Believer”, the music kills. Even the score by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell I thought was great.
Even though I’ve never read the book in which the writers (Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, and Roger S. H. Schulman) took it from, what’s loving about the story and even more so now is how it subverts a lot of expectations we’ve typically come to find in Disney movies that become its own thing with the world surrounding these characters. Seeing an ogre on this adventure instead of a handsome prince is different. But while it has everything you come to expect from this, there’s still the great message of accepting yourself for who you are. Shrek might be an ogre, but people shouldn’t just label him as a monster, which is why Donkey isn’t scared of him. I haven’t watched this in eleven years and I don’t know how I missed that point, but as someone who’s dealing with this issue of honestly never found a person who’ll love me because of my overweight appearance and doesn’t consider myself good enough, it’s great to have a family movie to show that everyone has layers to themselves, like onions.
Aside from the fact the character has become the product of countless memes in recent years, almost everybody loved the first installment, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Not only did it become a smash hit at the box office and received praise from critics, but it also had the honor of becoming the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002, beating about Disney-Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Nickelodeon Movies’ Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Along with its win, the script was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. And if you’re one of the few people who have the nerve to call this “unfunny” or will take the time out of your day to give your stupid hot takes, they should revoke your opinions. Fact.
Final Thoughts: Shrek brings a ton of fun for those who want to watch a charming, funny, and very unorthodox take on fairy tales that’ll boost your spirits to new heights. Even though it not the most complex thing to come out in the last 20 years, it’s still memorable in its way that has become the stepping point of what DreamWorks Animation represents, for better or worse.