shrek directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman, based on the book by William Steig, produced by Aron Warner, John H. Williams and Jeffrey Katzenberg, with the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow. 90 minutes. A PDI/DreamWorks production. A DreamWorks release. Opens Friday (May 18). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 90. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
it's been almost 15 years since Stephen Sondheim turned Grimm's fairy tales inside out with his Broadway hit Into The Woods. That play, about various characters getting mixed up in each other's adventures, poked holes in the morals of the old stories. It was made into a TV special in 1990, but I always thought it would have made a great movie.
With his illustrated children's book Shrek, author William Steig picked up where Sondheim left off. And it, in turn, has been made into a surefire, big-screen, animated hit by DreamWorks, the same studio that gave us last year's best animated film, Chicken Run.
Shrek is a green, smelly ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) whose swamp is overrun by fairy-tale characters who've been banished from their kingdoms by the nasty Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). The loner Shrek can't stand the irritating intruders -- who are completely useless outside their stories -- so he makes a deal with Farquaad that if he rescues Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), who's trapped in a castle guarded by a dragon, and brings her back to be Farquaad's bride, he'll get his quiet swamp back.
Steig's book was a hit with kids because Shrek is gross but sweet. And adults got off on the way it showed up the shallow subtexts of fairy tales -- that beauty equals goodness, for example, and ugliness means loneliness.
Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio pick up on that thread, and Shrek the movie is a clever send-up. It puts an ugly ogre in the place of the handsome prince, allows a princess to have some beauty issues and gives a fire-breathing dragon a romantic streak. And it's really funny.
Mike Myers adopts a Scottish accent but doesn't go over the top with it as he did in So I Married An Axe Murderer. It's a quieter performance, and even at his most sarcastic Myers never sounds rude. He's joined by a donkey sidekick (Eddie Murphy) who's at first a little annoying but who grows on you. Murphy gives what's otherwise a laid-back film a more frenetic feel.
If you look closely at the edges of the screen you'll see supporting characters and extras doing weird, offbeat things. Thank directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, who know that humour is in details like a gingerbread man spitting up icing while being tortured by Farquaad, or a dragon knocking out the last remaining window in a destroyed castle. A treat.