Our review of Shrek: The Whole Story (Blu-Ray), published December 15th, 2010, is also available.
The greatest fairy tale never told.
The summer of 2001 brought the usual batch of big, stupid action movies that promised lots of explosions (Pearl Harbor), special effects extravaganzas (Jurassic Park III) and meaningless eye candy (Tomb Raider). By the time the summer ended there were a couple of diamonds in the pile of refuse, with one of them reigning at the box office. DreamWorks' Shrek brought home the big bucks and now DreamWorks has released Shrek on DVD, and oh, what a DVD it is.
Facts of the Case
Shrek (Mike Myers—Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, Wayne's World) is a big, smelly, nasty green ogre who lives alone in his swamp, and that's really all he wants out of life due to the fact that he's an ogre. His simplistic life gets turned upside down, however, when Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow—TV's 3rd Rock From the Sun) evicts all of the fairy tale creatures from his kingdom, forcing them to invade Shrek's swamp and set up a refugee camp. Angered by the intrusion on his personal space, Shrek sets off to talk to Lord Farquaad along with a motor-mouthed donkey, Donkey (Eddie Murphy—Doctor Dolittle, The Nutty Professor). When they arrive in the Kingdom of Duloc, Lord Farquaad makes a deal with Shrek—if Shrek rescues the beautiful Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz—There's Something About Mary, Charlie's Angels) from a fire-breathing dragon and brings her back to marry Lord Farquaad, then Shrek will gain the deed to his swamp. Once Shrek and Donkey rescue the princess, however, things get complicated when Shrek and Fiona begin to fall for each other despite a terrible secret the princess is keeping from Shrek.
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past year you probably already realize that Shrek is an animated film done completely with computerized animation. Every computer-animated film that has been released has managed to make huge strides in quality over its predecessors, and Shrek is no exception. There were four areas that the production team concentrated on for the animation, and two of them were considered "Holy Grails" of computer animation. First of all was the need to develop a way to depict accurate fluid mechanics, something which was missing in previous films, and Shrek showcases the successes found by the animation department with spilling beer and milk, and also with an active volcano filled with burbling hot magma. Another area where computer animation needed help was with the flow and realistic wrinkling of clothing, which Shrek also succeeds at. As good as the CGI in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace happened to be, they never really got the movement of fabric correct and it gave all of the CGI characters (of which there were many) a stiff look despite the casualness of their motion. Other areas included the ability to accurately depict fire (which fell into place once the fluid mechanics were developed) and a better, more accurate way of depicting facial expressions and muscular movement. This allowed the animators to actually capture some of the facial ticks of the principle voice cast. Shrek's animation may not be on par with some current efforts like Monsters, Inc., but keep in mind that the animation techniques are rapidly evolving. Still, Shrek looks outstanding, and the computers are pushed to their limits. Shrek has over thirty fully-rendered characters as well as various fairies, pixies, gnomes, and dwarfs which appear mostly all in one scene. This is a staggering amount of computer time, which, as we learn in the commentary, was about nine hours for one frame of film during the more character intense scenes. Additionally, the action in Shrek romps through 36 different stunning locations, so the crew had its work cut out.
This brings us to the vocal talent that gathered some of the best comedic actors in the business. Everyone hits their marks as their respective characters which lends a great deal of believability to the film. Myers is once again doing his Scottish accent, something he's been doing since his days on Saturday Night Live, and Eddie Murphy is absolutely perfect as the loquacious Donkey. Cameron Diaz always gives a decent performance and John Lithgow was born for a villainous comedy role.
The story of Shrek looks rather standard on paper, but it's anything but. The writers and animators loaded Shrek with a great deal of dark humor that will appeal to every age group, though maybe for different reasons. The kids in the audience will be looking at one thing, and the adults in the audience will be laughing at something else. (When I saw Shrek in the theater I was in a rather mixed audience, and it was interesting to hear the difference in the reactions.) Children will love the burping and farting jokes, the exploding songbird, and the inflated frog, while adults will enjoy Shrek's Freudian view of Lord Farquaad's enormous castle. With all of the fairy tale creatures running around in Shrek, we also get to witness the darker side that these fairy tales originally held. Gepetto sells off Pinocchio at the beginning of the film, the big, bad wolf (dressed as a grandmother) claims Shrek's bed as his own, the seven dwarves put Snow White to rest on Shrek's dining room table, the Mama Bear ends up as a rug in Lord Farquaad's bed chamber (look closely for it) and, in my favorite scene the Gingerbread Man gets tortured and interrogated by Lord Farquaad. ("Not my gum drop buttons!") The humor also pokes fun at modern day conventions, as well. Not too many other movies can claim to lampoon pop-culture references like Walt Disney World, Walt Disney's animated oeuvre, the World Wrestling Federation, "The Lord of the Dance" and The Matrix all in one movie, but Shrek manages to do so casually. The story itself is really secondary and at its core is somewhat predictable, but it's still enjoyable and carries a good moral at the end as all fairy tales do (more on that in a moment, though).
The video and audio represented on this DVD is perfect. Let's face facts here: this movie was created in a complete digital environment and it was a no-brainer to transfer it to DVD. I only wish I had a high-definition television to really enjoy the finer details contained in Shrek. The colors are perfect and there is no artifacting, edge enhancement, or any other problem video transfers can have. Additionally, the audio fully utilizes the 5.1 sound channels, providing a full experience.
Now, let's talk about the extras on this DVD.
The Filmmakers' Commentary features one of the producers, Aron Warner, as well as the two directors, Andrew Adamson and Vicki Jenson. It's a lively and informative commentary track and it's very obvious that these three people were very passionate and excited about their film. They talk about everything from the vocal performances to some of the technical details of the computer rendering. If these things interest you, it's worth the 90 minutes of your time.
"The Tech of Shrek" featurette explores the actual composition and CGI rendering of Shrek. Again, this is a pretty good extra to look at. Another extra that goes hand-in-hand with this one is the Technical Goofs, which showcases some of the problems that computer rendering can bring. My favorite was a mistake with the settings on Donkey's hair that made him look like a walking Chia Pet. Also of interest is the Character Design Progression Reel, which shows initial drawings of the characters from concept all the way up to their finished render. This isn't as detailed as those see on The Ultimate Toy Box but it's still solid. Another different behind-the-scenes vignette is the Storyboard Pitch of Outrageous Deleted Scenes, which shows writers pitching three unused scenes to the rest of the crew. A couple of the scenes are actually pretty funny while a third one would have ruined Fiona's secret for the audience.
The HBO First Look: The Making of Shrek showcases the principle vocal talent at work in the sound booth as well as interviews. The International Dubbing Featurette then shows some of the foreign stars who take the place of the original stars for the foreign releases. You haven't heard anything until you hear Donkey singing in Spanish. DreamWorks and Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy also did some short "in character" interviews that are rather humorous.
The Hidden Fun Facts feature is actually an Easter Egg located by going to the Special Features menu on either of the two DVDs and clicking on the Gingerbread Man's gum drop buttons. A factoid about Shrek will pop up.
Musical features include Shrek's Music Room, which includes music videos from Smash Mouth and the Baha Men. The Shrek crew also put together Shrek's Karaoke In-The-Swamp Dance Party musical number that showcases all of the characters seen in Shrek.
If that isn't enough you can also find hints for the Shrek Xbox Video Game as well as fifteen different interactive games. These games are actually pretty lame and typically consist of "make choice A for result X" kind of stuff. They kept my attention for about thirty seconds before I got bored.
A unique bonus feature is Shrek's Revoice Studio, which allows you to record various parts of dialogue into the movie, replacing the voices of the cast. Since this is a feature on the DVD-ROM portion of the DVD, and since I don't have a DVD-ROM drive, I was unable to experience this, but Chief Justice Mike Jackson will be able to say a few words about it. Take it away, Mike:
Thanks, Kevin. One nice thing about the DVD-ROM features is that they all run directly from the DVD-ROM; the only software that's actually installed on your PC is the InterActual interface. The Revoice Studio, as Kevin said, allows you to record various lines for 12 scenes from Shrek. First you run a microphone calibration, then a cutesy animated guide walks you through the interface. You can select a scene, and then are presented with the lines that you can record. You can choose as many or as few as you want, practice with them, do as many takes as you want. Then, you can watch the scene with your fresh new dialogue, all synced up with the action. And you know what? It does a pretty darn good job. I was pretty jazzed to see my stilted cadence matched perfectly with Lord Farquaad's lips.
There's other DVD-ROM features as well. "Learn to Draw Shrek" walks you step by step (with at least 20 steps) through drawing your own pic of the horrible green ogre. "Gingerbread Hangman" is exactly what it sounds like—you play Hangman with the poor little gingerbread man. I played to lose…bwa ha ha. "Soup Slam" is a game of Whack-A-Mole with eyeballs in Shrek's soup bowl. "Fairy Tale Lanes" is a rousing game of elf bowling. "Bugs and Slugs" is tic-tac-toe. Snore. "Charming Dragon" makes you catch falling charms. Again, not a whole lot of fun. "Coloring Pages" is exactly what it sounds like: five coloring pages. "Color A Scene" is an interactive coloring book. "Ogre Masks" are printable masks, which painfully remind me of a certain family vacation. Don't ask. "Pin the Tail on Donkey" is a printable version of the perennial kids birthday party fave. "Fire Donkey" is another arcade-style game, but to be honest, I couldn't get the hang of it. I tried to play "Shrek Pinball," but all I got was a blank window. All in all, it's the most diverse and coolest selection of DVD-ROM features I've seen on a DVD. All the features may not have much replay value, but the Revoice Studio balances out the lameness of things like "Bugs and Slugs." We'll now rejoin Kevin's review already in progress.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If Shrek has any problems, it's in the resolution of the story itself. Everything ends up as a nice cookie cutter fairy tale ending, which is exactly the type of movie Shrek lampoons for the first 75 minutes. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed the ending, but I thought it only fair to point out the irony. Maybe it just shows that no matter how hard you try to beat the system, you're still a part of the machine.
Another potential problem that some filmgoers might have with Shrek is the subject matter. Children will want to see it because it's a cartoon, and there are plenty of things for a younger audience to laugh at, but deep down Shrek has a tremendous amount of very adult humor to it. This is actually the best type of animated film, in my opinion, just because anyone can sit down and enjoy it, but parents should take a look and decide if this might be too much for their youngster. In all honesty, while the kids are laughing and the burping and farting jokes, most of the adult humor will go right over their heads. [Editor's Note: Hi, me again. To add my two cents, when I saw it at the theater, my wife and I sat behind a family with two kids under six. Every time there was a fart joke or some mild cussing, the mom kept looking at the dad like the movie was all his fault. I come from a background of very protective parents, and I know this isn't the sort of film my parents would've let me watch when I was five or six. If you're that way too, give it a watch first.]
All in all, Shrek is one of the best movies of 2001 and the Shrek DVD is one of the best ever. This DVD has my highest possible recommendation.
DreamWorks is free to go for making one of the best DVDs of 2001 (and that's saying something). The cast and crew of Shrek is also free to go for a fine job all around.
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