I remember really liking Shrek (2001) the first time I saw it back in the day on VHS. However now when I think about the film, I am not so sure. Who knows if that is because of the actual film itself or the litany of rubbish, pop-culture referencing films that it inspired, including the tepid only sequel I bothered with Shrek 2 (2004).
Re-watching this first film again, I realised that my recollections of it really have been sullied by the films it inspired, because it is a pretty original animated flick. The pop-culture references, whilst definitely there, are actually not too ubiquitous and give a funny edge to the film, rather than actually being the focus of the entire film. The selective use of them means that when they are used, they are fun to spot and actually enhance the viewing of the film, Princess Fiona doing bullet time for example. Plotwise, Shrek is an inversion of a traditional fairy tale. Shrek is a hated, ugly ogre, who sets out to save the princess so he can get his isolated swamp back the way he likes it – empty of everyone else. So he rescues the princess so that she can be hand delivered to the short statured Lord Farquaard in order to be married. The narrative is a little strange in that this quest is actually completed relatively early on and with relative ease, leaving the rest of the film’s running time to flesh out the various relationships that have been established.
All the elements of this film are solid. The script is tight, managing to balance a cracking pace but also not to feel too superficial, especially in regards to the interactions between the various characters. And despite my loathing for a certain Smashmouth song, the soundtrack is really excellent, using pop songs to generally great effect (in fact this film directly led to me discovering the music of Jeff Buckley, one of my top 3 recording artists of all time). All of the characters work well and indeed one of the best parts of the film is the character of Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Donkey is a motormouthed creature who only wants to be loved and accepted by Shrek, who wants no part of him. The banter between the two of them is inspired as they eventually set out on an odd-couple road trip to rescue the princess. In my warped remembrance of this film, I recalled Donkey being rather annoying. But he made me laugh a hell of a lot actually which was a really pleasant surprise. Oh for a decent live action comedy role for Eddie Murphy these days! It is also great to see a different kind of female central character in an animated film, with Princess Fiona a bit of a rockin feminist hero, somewhat reminiscent to the young hero Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph (2004).
Forget about all the craptastic pretenders that Shrek inspired, this is a rollicking, inspired neo fairy tale that still stands up. I had a lot of fun watching this again and laughed a good deal more than I thought I would. I definitely recommend revisiting this one if you haven’t seen it for a few years.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny