Sunday, October 17

Shrek at 20: A Little Fun and Overrated Minimum for Blockbuster Animation | Animation in cinema

Shrek has an outhouse with a working toilet.

It’s not part of the cynical kind of “irreverence” in the movie that an ogre’s latrine is supported by modern plumbing. And it’s certainly not consistent with the hygiene of a swamp-dwelling beast that bathes in mud, brushes its teeth with slime, and boasts of a killer weed rat stew. But after our lime green hero literally wipes his butt with a fairytale ending, it was apparently decided that the movie needed that emphatic sound before the Smash Mouth All Star single kicked in and the introductory cut could begin. .

Twenty years later, that blushing sound seems to signify the moment the blockbuster animation circled the drain. Shrek is a terrible movie. It’s not funny. It looks horrible. He would influence a lot of hideous-looking, little funny computer-animated comedies that copied his formula of simplistic self-referencing and sickly sweet sentimentality. Three of those terrible movies were sequels to Shrek and one was a spin-off with a sequel in the works. The curse has been alleviated but has not disappeared.

And yet, Shrek was a sensation among critics and audiences in 2001. After failing in his early efforts to keep up with Disney, the animation house that his co-founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was credited with reviving , DreamWorks had finally reached pay land, raising the possibility that it will become a viable challenge for large established studios. Even the teddy t-shirts at the Cannes film festival, which generally separated Hollywood’s summer food from its official selections, made it into the competition list, where it premiered alongside new work from world masters like David Lynch, Jean. -Luc Godard, Hou Hsiao-hsien. and Jacques Rivette. (Liv Ullmann’s jury left him empty-handed, sadly.)

It’s hard to explain why Shrek hit the cultural moment as directly as he did, other than, you know, people seemed to enjoy it, or why it will be celebrated in 20th anniversary pieces other than this one. But it’s worth noting how utterly bad his legacy remains, opening the floodgates for other major studios to pile celebrities into recording booths, give them committee-polished lines, and put those lines in the mouths of daring CGI animals or humans. residents of the haunting valley. Worse still, it fostered a know-it-all destructive attitude toward the classics that made any serious engagement with them seem like a waste of time. Those once upon a time now got heavy and boring, literally toilet paper.

His replacement? Mostly a flatulent ogre voiced by Mike Myers, who displays the same accent that carried him through the All Things Scottish sketches on Saturday Night Live. Myers had barely surpassed the peak of his popularity when he replaced his SNL partner Chris Farley as Shrek, still atop two hit Austin Powers movies and still powerful enough for DreamWorks to shrug it off and let him. redo the role in Scottish. For years, Shrek had seemed like a disaster in the making (the writers assigned to polish the script compared him to “the Gulag”), but the conceptual hook of his fairytale universe, combined with the chemistry of Myers and Eddie Murphy’s friends as Donkey, and Cameron Diaz as Fiona, a damsel in distress, was stronger than they might have realized.

In fact, Shrek’s roadmap had already been laid out years before with The Princess Bride, a fractured fairy tale that struck the right balance between wise and mildly absurd plays about storybook lore and a sincere statement. of his power. There’s even a scene in Shrek nodding to the torture machine in the previous film, with the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) working on the Gingerbread Man to gain information. But the balance in Shrek is unbalanced on both ends: There is an excess of anachronisms and movie riffs from Myers and Murphy’s friends that have little to do with the backdrop and a sadness for the love story between two lonely and misunderstood monsters. . (Nothing screams “undeserved seriousness” like slipping into a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.)

Photograph: Ho / Reuters

The most curious element about Shrek is how disinterested he seems to be in the fairy tale universe he creates. In recent years, as studios have merged and brands have been further strengthened, we’ve seen a lot of desire for companies to bring up their intellectual property. Hello, Space Jam: a new legacy – but there is much more promise in a movie than about endangered fairy tale favorites, from nursery rhymes to Brothers Grimm. Some of these creatures are brought together in mass arrests by Lord Farquaad, who exiles them to Shrek’s swamp, and the dilemma of Princess Fiona, imprisoned in a castle tower guarded by a dragon, recalls Sleeping Beauty. But once Shrek and Donkey cross the kingdom on a quest to bring Fiona to Farquaad, the storybook references are all but abandoned. Even when Robin Hood and his merry men show up in the woods, the movie bypasses those boring old myths to pay homage to The Matrix and Riverdance.

What remains is an all-age film that is somehow more stark and youthful in its appeal to adults than children. The adults in the room can laugh knowingly at Farquaad’s name and the repeated references to his penis size, while the kids are left with jokes about farting and the rampant decline in timeless characters and stories. Last year, the National Film Registry added Shrek to the Library of Congress, sealing his canonization, but it’s remarkable how much of a relic from the early years it has become, a memorial to the phenomena preserved in amber. (Mike Myers, Smash Mouth, Michael Flatley) who hasn’t stood the test of time. Even the film’s referential style seems decidedly slow and unpleasant next to the Cuisinarts pop buzz from Lord and Miller productions like The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or even IP-heavy Disney movies like Wreck-it Ralph and its sequel. .

In the end, Shrek didn’t save DreamWorks from being sold a few years later. It didn’t extend Myers’ career past a hard expiration date. And Katzenberg went on to found Quibi. It is better to leave the whole company in the past.

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