We gave it an A-
Had renowned psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim lived to see the exuberant computer animated comedy Shrek, he would have added a chapter to his famous book about the importance of fairy tales, ”The Uses of Enchantment.” This charmingly loopy, iconoclastic story about a crotchety ogre, a rakish donkey, a princess with a beauty secret, and a contemptible nobleman with a Napoleon complex isn’t only a funny, sprightly fable for all ages about not judging a book by its cover; it’s also a kind of palace coup, a shout of defiance, and a coming of age for DreamWorks, the upstart studio that shepherded the project with such skill and chutzpah.
In William Steig’s quirky 1990 illustrated children’s book, the ogre Shrek — green-skinned, tuber-headed, and in need, as they say in Hollywood, of much ”work” — is kicked out into the world by his hideous parents, who decide it’s time their little darling was ”doing his share of damage.” On the road, he meets a witch who tells him his fate is to wed a princess. In the movie, Shrek — voiced with a dram of Scottish attitude by Mike Myers — hits the road because he can’t stand the internment camp that’s been set up in his swamp: It’s populated by fairy-tale creatures who have been rounded up by despotic Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, a hoot). Farquaad promises he’ll remove the refugees if Shrek will fetch the tyrant a certain princess (Cameron Diaz, as spritzy a heroine doing voiceover as she is when we can actually see the actress in the flesh).
Such creatures! Every Disney animated character who ever signed working papers with former Mouseman and current DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg is displaced, in an act of cartoon aggression as naked as it is hilarious and exhilarating. As with all classic animated fairy tales, the leading man hooks up with a sidekick who keeps him on the path and bucks him up when shrek happens. Along the way, our bilious, pickle-skinned hero partners up with Donkey, a nattering jackass voiced by Eddie Murphy with all the jiveyness the comedian likes to unleash under cover of cartoon.
An auspicious directorial debut by DreamWorkers Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, working with a nicely barbed script from a team headed by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, ”Shrek” is a happy display of whizzy advances in computer animation (developed at PDI/ DreamWorks) that allow faces and bodies to move and light to play on textures realistically. But the technological innovations aren’t what make this feisty movie entertainment so refreshing. Nor is it the story specifics themselves, which occasionally bobble and flag, particularly when Donkey is such an ass. Rather, ”Shrek” lives happily ever after because it’s such a feisty but good natured embrace of the inner ogre in everyone, and such an irreverent smackdown of the Establishment in all its ”heigh ho” tyranny.