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Mr. Cynical takes in SHREK

Hey folks, Harry here... Last night there was a screening of SHREK in Los Angeles that various folks managed to creep into... Moriarty got in... Garth got in... even Smiling Jack Ruby got in. Seems Dreamworks is EXTREMELY CONFIDENT in SHREK and are proud as parental pooches of the purty pup they've got. Well, in addition to the above internet dignitaries... The infamous... MR. CYNICAL was there... the man who believes free chocolate is a laxative... who believes Disney makes films solely to sell toys.... who believes the MPAA doesn't serve equally the world of independents and the world of studio films. In other words, his glass is half-empty and he thinks yours is, too... Read what this uncentered man has to say....

Just came back from the screening of SHREK at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills. Normally I would've been Mr. Cynical and stayed away from such Hollywood Family Fare, but for some reason I felt compelled to attend.

The screening started out with Mr. Katzenberg gettin' up to say a few words about how much of an important milestone in animation this was. Why, because they animated realistic milk and fire? Well, that's what Katzenberg wanted us to buy off on. He was stammering a bit (not a solid public speaker), but I figured he was trying to figure out where to put the GLADIATOR trophies they'll get this weekend.

The more interesting surprise was Mike Myers, who does the voice of Shrek, showed up to say a few words and was pretty darn funny in his off-the-cuff unprepared remarks. Then, after a warning that the movie was only 80% finished (a few spots had rough animation, video and pencil tests) and a trailer for the Ivan Reitman movie Evolution (looks pretty damn rotten!) the main event began.

Despite the fact that I'm Mr. Cynical about such movies, especially ones that try to nudge you in the rib with cultural in jokes (Aladdin being the worst offender in recent memory), Shrek was really dead on, funny, and extremely entertaining. Does it have market researched to death written all over it so that kids and parents can enjoy? Sure does, but the adults will love the play on traditional fairy tales, the boys will love the grossout humor of Shrek and the girls will dig the love story. Oh, also the parents will love the overabundance of really positive moral messages that are practically rammed over your head with a sledgehammer (although the love affair between a donkey and a female dragon is a little unsettling, but I digress...)

The story goes: Shrek (Mike Myers) is a big green ogre who lives alone in the swamp. He saves a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) from being captured by the evil Prince's men who are rounding up all the fairy tale creatures. Soon, the fairy tale folk invade the swamp and Shrek is mightily upset. He wants to have a word with this Prince. Meanwhile, the Prince (John Lithgow), who's barely 4 feet tall, is interrogating a gingerbread cookie and the mirror-on-the-wall on how to become King. The recommendation (after a dating game spoof involving Cinderella and Snow White that has a great payoff at the end of the film) is a princess who's at the top of a castle protected by an evil dragon.

Needless to say, Shrek gets inadvertently drafted to save the princess (Cameron Diaz) and...well, it's a fairytale so you know where this is going. Suffice to say, it all works out in the end and everyone dances to Smash Mouth singing a Monkees tune but, again, I digress...

The movie works so well because it plays just like a Fractured Fairy Tale from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Throwaway gags abound and jabs are taken at everything from fairy tale cliches to Disney World. Some of the cultural stuff is a tad obvious and almost tired (Matrix, anyone?), but the overwhelming majority of them are dead on and I certainly don't want to ruin it.

The animation is also pretty darn stellar. Shrek and the Donkey move with such lifelike precision it's almost too real. The detail on the swamp, grass, shadows and...yes, even the fire and liquids are all pretty darn amazing. That makes the one big letdown even more so...they haven't got humans right at all. As much as Shrek is intensely lifelike (and Myers performance as the straight man to Murphy had as much to do with that as anything), all the humans appear as if they're semi-decent drawn characters from a videogame with Thunderbirds mouths...

However, with such a well written story with tight comedic pacing like this, that's a small quibble. This movie will certainly work when it opens in May and snag the family audience that Disney has been waning from. Dreamworks, of course, is cementing this as a hit with tie-ins at Burger King, Baskin Robbins and that damn green ketchup that Heinz is making. Get your kids tickets now. They'll probably want to take you several times. Call me...

Mr. Cynical

Readers Talkback
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  • March 23, 2001, 3:48 a.m. CST

    OH yeah,

    by Cafeman

    I so want to see this...misbehavers story from Four Rooms is the best thig by far he`s done until this moment, and I`m itchin` to see him return to those characters...too bad he didn`t cast the same kids, though....

  • March 23, 2001, 4:49 a.m. CST

    "rammed over your head?"

    by Darth Brooks

    It's "rammed down your throat" or "hit over your head" - Ebert has a column and you don't because Ebert's got an *editor*.

  • March 23, 2001, 6:55 a.m. CST

    Yeah, it rocks

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    Shrek was a ton o' fun and as Harry said, if scum like me got invited in, you'd better believe Dreamworks is confident. They should be. That mama bird gag is gonna kill!

  • March 23, 2001, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Green ketchup

    by MrGonev5

    That green ketchup kinda kicks ass....

  • March 23, 2001, 8:01 a.m. CST

    I dunno...

    by Unferth

    I thought the trailer to this that was slapped onto the Chicken Run video looked pretty bad. Unfunny, with cheap ("Antz" quality) animation.

  • March 23, 2001, 8:43 a.m. CST

    It'll be fine

    by Terry_1978

    The main reason I wanna check this is out is due to the "fairy tale spoof" buzz I've been hearing. It's obviously gotta have a couple moral messages to keep with fable traditons, which shouldn't be a real downfall. And I also disagree with the comments about the human characters not looking realistic. Well, Farquaad(aka the prince) is pretty much a freakishly short character to begin with, so his look can be a tad more exaggerated...but Diaz's princess looks really detailed. Besides, if the story and writing works, that's the main thing.

  • March 23, 2001, 10:34 a.m. CST

    Real looking humans

    by otis von zipper

    This does sound promising. If this film is half as inspired as the old Fractured Fairy Tales, it will bee a hoot. On the subject of real looking CGI humans, I find this disturbing. Do we want cartoons to look like actual human beings? If we want a real person, use an actor. In this case, a fantasy world, it seems appropriate that the people appear slightly fantasic also.

  • March 23, 2001, 10:57 a.m. CST

    by Wallgrom

    Glad to see ol' D. McWeeny made it into the screening.

  • March 23, 2001, 2:31 p.m. CST

    I wouldn't rule out Disney yet...

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    Even though they're not trying to make advances with stuff like a completely CG movie, "Atlantis" is coming out without "songs" and from what I've seen, it looks pretty good. Of course, a trailer means jack shit, but come on - would the Disney of five years ago hire Mike Mignola?

  • March 23, 2001, 2:49 p.m. CST

    Is this THE Mr. Cynical?

    by artsnob

    As in "Mr. Cynical's Really Wild Stuff Emporium"? As in MIA since 2/6/97?

  • March 23, 2001, 10:14 p.m. CST

    hmmmmm......................

    by polgara04

    that green ketchup does kick ass. looks like its gonna be a good film. i also agree with the whole disney down fall thing. Unless they so something good soon i have a feeling that the "disney monopoly" will come crashing down around their mouse ears. ~pol~

  • March 24, 2001, 2:38 a.m. CST

    Home Theater Forum has a better review of SHREK

    by Wally Wolchak

    Home Theater Forum seems to be getting all the early exclusives on movies. They had the the first review of Phantom Menace and they continue to get into early screenings. I just saw a review at.... http://www.hometheaterforum.com/sneak/index.html

  • March 24, 2001, 11:16 a.m. CST

    Hercules was worse than Aladdin

    by Drath

    at the whole pop culture in-joke humor, Hercules sucked up the Greek myths and spat out shit. For god's sake, they called Athens the BIG OLIVE! Maybe Mr. Cynical had given up after Aladdin and just stopped being surprised. But the statement that Aladdin was the worst offender in recent memory isn't accurate--that movie is almost ten years old! From the look of it, the torch will soon be passed out of the Disney camp to "A Knight's Tale."

  • March 25, 2001, 1:38 a.m. CST

    solid writing, solid article...

    by Andy_Christ

    Which means this guy is a shill, don't buy a word of it. :)

  • March 25, 2001, 1:38 a.m. CST

    solid writing, solid article...

    by Andy_Christ

    Which means this guy is a shill, don't buy a word of it. :)

  • March 25, 2001, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Antz bit

    by Lemonator

    Don't listen to anyone who uses Antz as a measuring stick of quality. One word describes that film... Brown!