Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shrek: A Collection Of Allusions That Fails To Be Its Own

The Good: Concept, Moments of humor
The Bad: Animation, Failure to be cohesive
The Basics: Surprisingly unsatisfying as it tells the same type joke over and over, Shrek is plagued with poor animation, timing and balance of allusions to original material.

Most spoof films don't rate so high in my book. It's not that I don't enjoy them, because usually, I do. The problem is they suffer exponentially upon rewatching. That is, a film like Spaceballs that plunders around the science fiction landscape alluding to something in each scene (though primarily focusing on Star Wars) is hilarious the first time, amusing the second and by the third, you're only smiling. Don't ask me to watch it a fourth time. Humor is tricky. I think the reason every true geek ends up reciting from Monty Python (usually, sigh, from Monty Python And The Holy Grail, though I personally prefer the episodes) and/or The Kids In the Hall is because it stands up well over multiple viewings. In fact, it's raw, honest humor that will endure so long as there's a society to be challenged; jokes on other works, especially more transient works than universal concepts, suffer immensely upon rewatching.

So, the first question is, was I entertained while watching Shrek? No. Would I reckon I'd enjoy it more or less the second go around? Less, most assuredly. The answer, in this case, is remarkably simple. I mean, usually when I'm borderline on something, as I was on Shrek, it takes me a day or two to diagnose the problem. In this case, it was that the film is a spoof and that's fine, but it's a spoof of the lowest order. That came out much more derogatory than I intended, allow me to explain. If a spoof is a work that alludes to others and attempts to usurp the purpose of the alluded films through humor, then it seems to me the greatest spoofs would call upon the most sources, mostly subtly (so at least 50% would take a second viewing simply to catch), while telling its own, unique story that becomes part of the collective unconscious in and of itself. I can't come up with a spoof that has done that yet either. As far as comedies go, Dogma would fill this niche. Moving on, it strikes me then that the lowest form of spoof would be the one that simply strings together allusion after allusion without adding anything truly unique. The lowest form of a spoof would be a one trick pony, mocking the alluded-to works in much the same way throughout. In simpler terms, the lowest form of spoof would tell the same joke over and over again essentially or pick on the alluded-to works in the same ways throughout.

Shrek is one such film. In it, the Ogre Shrek finds his swamp invaded by fairy tale creatures, in the company of a donkey, when he resolves to deal with the problem. So, he visits the diminutive Lord Farquaad and goes on a quest to rescue a princess who, despite her first impression, is not the typical fairy tale princess.

In short, Shrek is a ninety minute stringing together of jokes about fairy tales and Disney and Disney-style films. To its credit, it's a nice idea. I like the idea of mocking fairy tales. The problem is it turns them all the same way. Everything is supposedly not what we expect, so by the time we get five minutes in we're expecting it. For instance, Ogres are classically thought to be mean and evil and we're exposed to one who is good natured and a jokester. We encounter a donkey that speaks and pesters, rather than aids, the protagonist. Thus, by the time the Lord and the Princess enter, we expect them to be something other than they appear and we are not surprised then by their secrets.

To its credit, Shrek doesn't only attack fairy tales and Disney fare, it tackles plenty of other films (like The Matrix and Babe). The problem is, that's all it does. The film is a constant stringing together of allusions. I can't name a single scene that did not allude to some other work. So, it had the feel of a protracted mockery. Often, reviewers of films based on Saturday Night Live sketches complain that the sketches were wonderful, but that they film kills it stretching it into a work at least ninety minutes long. Well, Shrek suffers similarly and I think it no surprise that it clocks out at exactly ninety minutes.

My other beef, other than the lack of substance in this film, is the animation. I watched it on DVD and I was disappointed with the animation. I mean, Princess Fiona's eyes are lifelike and I know a lot of effort went into them. They are the superlative point of animation. The animation is choppy in parts and my real problem is in movements. Things in Shrek have a habit of not moving like things in real life. By that I mean that if you go back and watch early Disney films, it's obvious the animators study the ways bodies move and they worked hard to get it right. The animators in Shrek made no such efforts and it shows.

Good for two to five laughs, Shrek failed to do anything original, simply making joke after joke after joke after joke and, as we know, even comedies, even spoofs, need to have something more than just that.

For other animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter
Toy Story 3


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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