Judge Erich Asperschlager is hitting the eggnog early this year.
"Smelly Christmas to all, and to all a gross night."
There's a lot at stake in the Christmas TV special game. Score a hit and you're a holiday tradition for decades to come. Fail to deliver and your hard work will ever be seen again. For every Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, there's…um…See what I mean? Every year, networks toss out sugar-frosted holiday treats by the handful, hoping a few will stick. Of course, it helps if your special builds off of a multimillion dollar movie franchise.
Christmas may be a new concept to gassy green giant Shrek (Mike Myers, The Love Guru), but when Fiona (Cameron Diaz, What Happens in Vegas) tells him she wants their first family holiday to be special, he vows to make it memorable. The big day arrives, bringing with it Donkey (Eddie Murphy, Meet Dave) and a host of uninvited revelers who threaten to undo Shrek's carefully planned celebration.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not a Shrek fan. I liked parts of the first two movies, but I thought Shrek the Third was one of the worst movies of 2007. Little wonder, then, that I didn't catch DreamWorks' star-studded lump of coal when it aired last December.
I'm glad to report that Shrek the Halls isn't as bad as I feared, though it isn't as good as I'd hoped. So much for Christmas miracles. What starts as goofy-if-predictable ogre fun devolves into saccharine life lessons way too early, making the finished product feel even shorter than its 22-minute runtime. The best parts are the varied takes on the "Night Before Christmas" story—which range from Donkey's elaborate decoration display to Gingy's horrific story about a murderous Santa with a sweet tooth—and Shrek's amusing Ogre Claus story that wraps things up, with extra points added for incorporating "unicorn poop" into a C. Clement Moore parody.
Like the movies, Shrek the Halls relies on big names and pop culture. It is impressive to hear the voices of Hollywood heavy-hitters like Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas in a television special. It's slightly less impressive to hear Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers reprise their roles, considering neither comic has had much success outside of the Shrek universe since the late '90s. For better or worse, their careers (and possibly their legacies) hang on the fortunes of a big green dude and a donkey. Who'da thunk it?
Career paths aside, Shrek the Halls is basically a continuation of the movie franchise, from actors to animation to music. If you're a fan of the films, you'll probably like the special. Computer animation has improved dramatically since the first Shrek, and DreamWorks didn't skimp for TV. Shrek the Halls looks amazing, even on standard DVD. The world is as rich and detailed as the last movie, if not more so. The DVD lets you choose between widescreen and full screen. For Shrek's sake, choose widescreen.
On the audio side, Shrek the Halls has a 5.1 surround mix that ups the cinematic feel. Just like the movies, the special's 22 minutes are crammed with pop music from artists as varied as The Waitresses and Eels to Journey and Seals & Croft. The scattershot approach is as gimmicky here as it is in the films. I'm just glad Smash Mouth doesn't have any Christmas songs.
The real difference between this special and the feature films is its running time. Animated movies are notorious for coming in under the 90 minute mark, but even at the standard 22 minutes of television time, Shrek the Halls feels too short—especially considering the full DVD price and disappointing slate of extras.
The only Shrek-related bonus features here are games, and only one of those—the brain-dead "Gingy's Dunking Game"—is accessible from your DVD player. The other, a demo for "Shrek's Carnival Craze," requires installing it on your PC. The only other extras are two short holiday sing-alongs…featuring the cast of DreamWorks' other big animated franchise, Madagascar. What gives? I think it might have something to do with the upcoming release of Madagascar 2, a trailer for which can be found at the beginning of this DVD—talk about Christmas being too commercial.
Paying full price for less than half an hour of content—including Madagascar commercials masquerading as "extras"—is a tough sell for even the most ardent Shrek fans, which is too bad because Shrek the Halls is a worthy extension of the feature films. If you like this special, do yourself a favor and wait for the its inevitable re-airing this holiday season. Think of it as a gift to yourself (and your wallet).
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