Remember how ’70s disaster movies begat ’80s disaster movie parodies? Now the same thing is happening to animated musicals. Disney made billions on Broadwayized ‘toon fables in the 1990s. Enter satirists like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who roughed up Disney production numbers two summers ago in ”South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.”
This summer, it’s DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg’s turn to hurl tomatoes. As one of ”Shrek”’s producers, he’s exhorted the writers and animators at Pacific Data Images (who made ”Antz”) to put together a fractured fairy tale that pokes some fun at the magic kingdom that banished the exec in 1994.
Ostensibly, ”Shrek” follows the William Steig storybook on which it’s based: A big green ogre (Myers, who replaced original voice choice Chris Farley) teams up with a feisty donkey (Murphy) to rescue a princess (Diaz). But look carefully at the villain — the dictatorial, real estate hungry Lord Farquaad (Lithgow), and you may see a resemblance to Katzenberg’s old boss, Disney chief Michael Eisner. Not a physical resemblance, but a constitutional one.
Preview audiences packed with industry folks have chuckled when ”Shrek” reaches Farquaad’s theme park style castle — clearly Disneyland in disguise. ”There’s no question, the digs are definitely there,” says Lithgow. ”Jeffrey never made any secret of that. But it doesn’t appear that he’s grinding axes. They’re good natured in jokes.”
It’s not clear whether these cracks will matter to casual filmgoers, but the movie is also loaded with broader pop culture tweaks and trendily raunchy gags (”Eat me!” exclaims a gingerbread man being tortured by Farquaad — and try saying that name fast). The PDI artists have also wrapped the picture in photorealistic environments that shrewdly reference current videogames. But Katzenberg knows that ultimately, the novelty value of the images will wear off. ”What we’ve done,” he says, ”is going to be state of the art for about the next five minutes.” Of course, that may be just long enough to gross happily ever after.