Kids might well be amused by the frenetic pacing of Shrek, the latest computer-animated film from DreamWorks, which moves so quickly it’s nearly a blur, though they need not get the jokes to enjoy frolicking in the muck (and the maggots) with a green, snaggletoothed ogre who wants only to be a knight and get the girl. But their parents should demand more than a movie that’s nothing but an empty pastiche of pop culture references: That’s what prime-time TV’s for. There are moments in Shrek that are so twisted and surreal you might wonder just why you took the little ones in the first place. A gingerbread man lies prone on a cookie sheet, his legs broken off and just out of reach. He is being tortured by midget royalty, a man with the head of an adult and the body of a fetus — Lord Farquaad (voiced by John Lithgow), whose name is pronounced throughout the movie as though it were a naughty pejorative (the first, and the fifteenth, time you hear it, you will swear someone just said “Fuckwad”).
It’s as though South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone got their hands on DreamWorks’ gee-whiz technology. It’s a cartoon full of kinks, Airplane! for the nursery school set. But its jokes carry no weight. And this movie has about as much plot as a Saturday morning cartoon on the WB (or the children’s book on which it’s based). Crotchety ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) agrees to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon and return her to the villainous Farquaad, only to fall in love with the princess upon their rather short journey back to the castle. Nothing more to it than that, really, save for a moral about how beauty’s only skin deep (the princess is not all she appears to be). And for all its technology, Shrek looks no more impressive than your above-average PlayStation 2 video game.
Here’s a film that even employs Eddie Murphy — billed as the Donkey, a demotion from his role as dragon in 1998’s animated Mulan — almost as if to mock him. The Donkey, yet another in the long tradition of talking-animal sidekicks, breaks into song more often than Rosie O’Donnell; apropos of nothing, he belts out Willie Nelson songs. And one might even argue that Murphy is fast becoming the Rochester of animation — the sassy sidekick yes-bossing his ass through movies like some shameful vestige. A black man as conniving jackass. How progressive.
But Shrek isn’t clever or smart. It just wants you to think it is, through wink after wink after wink. When a film, especially one credited to three screenwriters, makes fun of both Rupert Holmes’ “Piña Colada Song” and The Matrix, it’s neither hip nor knowing; it’s just mundane, obvious and hackneyed — an issue of Mad magazine, long after it stopped being funny or relevant.