One’s a big green guy with a furry sidekick. The other’s a big furry guy with a green sidekick. Both of them made fur fly at the box office and pulled greenbacks out of our pockets like never before.
By year’s end, DreamWorks’ Shrek and Disney’s Monsters, Inc. will together have grossed half a billion dollars at the box office. That’s certainly a testament to the voice-acting prowess of Mike Myers (who pulled off Shrek’s PG-saucy patter with a very forgivable wink) and John Goodman (as nice guy Sulley, he nails the precise tenor of parental panic in scene after G-rated scene). But the flow of bucks is also evidence that CG animation has, for the moment, eclipsed the drawing power of conventional cartoon fare. (Witness Disney’s underwhelming undersea adventure Atlantis and Warner’s DOA Osmosis Jones.)
Even as attempts to produce CG human actors have fallen flat, most notably in last summer’s Final Fantasy, the artists who breathed life into Shrek and Sulley managed to make these fanciful beings seem utterly human. Shrek’s supervising animator, Raman Hui, 38, says he made sure ”one of Shrek’s eyebrows is always a little higher than the other,” a cheeky gesture cribbed from Myers’ facial tics. John Kahrs, 34, Pixar’s lead animator on Sulley, points out that ”when Sulley turns his head while looking at [little human girl] Boo, his eyes stay fixed on her” — an almost subliminal touch that tells the subconscious, This thing is a live being. Stare into Shrek’s and Sulley’s pupils and behold more than smart graphic design. Somewhere in the mesmerizing swirls, it seems as if the actual souls of virtual actors hover. No wonder we fell for both these beasties in such a big way.