Sunday, June 4, 2017
(May 2001, U.S.)
Even as early as the summer of 2001, I already felt that computer animated family films were coming out too fast and too furious. By then, there'd already been two TOY STORY films, A BUG'S LIFE, ANTZ, CHICKEN RUN, DINOSAUR; geez, the list seemed to be growing and it wasn't showing any signs of stopping. Why I had any interest in seeing SHREK is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps it was the prospect of laughing at the sound of Eddie Murphy's wild and crazy voice. In all likelihood, however, it was probably simply the fact that the film was playing nearby in town and I was still in my enthusiastic days of just getting up off my ass and go to the movies simply because I wanted to.
Clearly, I was wrong, or I wouldn't be writing this post now. I not only loved every minute of SHREK (based on William Steig's 1990 children's picture book), but I actually found myself relating to the ogre's character, if you can believe that. Let me explain. When we first meet Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers), he's somewhat of a recluse character who values the simple pleasures of home, a good meal and a fine drink (sounds like me). Above all else, he values his privacy and not having it violated by anyone unless he wants them to (definitely sounds like me!). When he unexpectedly finds his private life interrupted by endless fairytale characters that have just been exiled to his land and swamp by Lord Farquaad of Duloc (voiced by John Lithgow), Shrek declares that he intends to have them removed immediately. In his quest to fulfill a bargain with Farquaad in order to get the unwanted fairytale squatters off his land, Shrek and his new tag-along, never-shutting-his-mouth Donkey (voiced by Murphy), are off on their quest to rescue Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) who's being held in a castle tower guarded by boiling lava and a fire-breathing dragon. Farquaad wants the princess rescued because he's been told by the "Magic Mirror on the Wall" that in order for him to finally and officially become king of Duloc, he must marry a princess.
When Shrek and Fiona finally meet, they can't stand each other (clearly the start of what will become a loving relationship later). Fiona is a spoiled-brat princess and Shrek is well, an ogre (oil and water, of course). Okay, we know that opposites inevitably attract, but the film's ultimate lesson of not judging those on the outside due to their ugliness without getting to know what's on the inside first may be a wild stretch ever for these two. Still, nothing can make you laugh in your theater seat like the sound of two opposites bickering back and forth like two pissed-off parents, and of course, having Donkey fill in the gaps with his wise-ass Eddie Murphy-style of comedy doesn't hurt things, either. As Shrek and Fiona inevitably find they have much in common and fall in love, it appears that a dark secret of Fiona's may bring them together after all, as she is under a bad spell from her childhood that turns her into a female ogre every night when the sun goes down. In the end, only true love's first kiss will transform Fiona to what will finally be her true and intended self. Will it be lovely human or ugly beast ogre? The answer comes when Shrek bursts in on Fiona's reluctant wedding ceremony with Farquaad (oh, how I wanted the climax of THE GRADUATE to be mocked at this moment with Shrek pounding the glass and repeatedly screaming "Fiona, Fiona, Fiona!") and we discover that love's true first kiss between her and Shrek means that they'll spend their lives together as ogres; misunderstood and feared by the rest of the kingdom, but understood and loved by each other. Hence, the film's intended message of good will, understanding and love (yeah, right, whatever. I came to the theater to laugh my ass off and I did!).
Okay, that's just me being a cynical bastard, but the heart behind SHREK, even as it's true purpose is to be filled with silly and wicked fun and jokes, is clear enough. And really, who better to make a complete and comical jackass of himself (pun totally intended!) than Eddie Murphy, who unfortunately, chose that latter part of his career to become a whole lot more family-oriented after a string of vulgar R-rated hits in the 1980s. The cast of the film is perfect, right down to John Lithgow's delightful wickedness that embraces his longtime love of children's material, as well as pure evil (think RAISING CAIN). Unfortunately, like so many other Hollywood successes, sequels and franchising ultimately takes things to far that it becomes almost a struggle to remember just how simply and originally things began in 2001.
Now a personal story. It may not have too much to do the film of SHREK itself, but it's more about timing and life's circumstances. My wife Beth (fiancée at the time) and I went to see SHREK in Westhampton Beach almost immediately after it opened (like I said before, it was one of those Saturday nights when we just wanted to go to the movies). After the horrific events of September 11, 2001, it was nearly two weeks until we returned to the (former) family home in the Hamptons. Although we (and the rest of New York City) were in a confused and vulnerable state after what had just happened, it was, in reality, one of the best weekends I ever spent at my home. It was late September and the weather was perfect. We went to the beach, we swam in the ocean, we rode our bikes, we grilled outdoors, we made love, and we went to the movies that Saturday night to see SHREK for the second time because the film had just been re-released, along with every other studio comedy that had been previously released that summer of 2001 in a truly noble effort by all of Hollywood to get America laughing again. It was only two days out of my live, but never before had I felt so safe and secure amidst a world-gone-mad that had just made it clear that no one was safe anymore. It was the simple power of home, of love, of knowing that I was just weeks away from marrying the love of my life, and of laughter at the movies with a film like SHREK. I'm grateful for that weekend and that (temporary) feeling.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Princess Fiona: "You didn't slay the dragon??"
Shrek: "It's on my to-do list! Now come on!"