"Shrek," a new animated feature from Dreamworks, turns fairy tale convention on its head: the handsome prince is a diminutive twit; the beautiful princess is more than capable of rescuing herself; and the knight in shining armor turns out to be an ogre...literally.
The premise, based upon the book by William Steig is both simple and extremely clever. The height-challenged Lord Farquaad (voice by John Lithgow, "3rd Rock From The Sun"), in order to perfect his magical kingdom of Duloc (an obvious jab at the theme parks of the Disney empire), has ordered all fairy tale "creatures" to be rounded up and relocated to designated areas outside the turnstiles of the city gates. This decree disrupts the solitude of the swamp where Shrek (voice by Mike Myers, "Austin Powers"), ghastly green ogre with a semisweet disposition makes his home. Wanting only to be left alone, Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad. If he rescues the lovely princess Fiona (voice by Cameron Diax, "Charlie's Angels") from the dragon-protected tower in which she is being held so that Farquaad can marry her and finally become a true king, Shrek's swamp will be cleared of all blind mice, women living in shoes, wolves dressed as grannies, etc...
Thus the quest begins. Shrek and his annoying new "friend," Donkey (voice by Eddie Murphy, "Doctor Dolittle") set out to rescue the princess and deliver her to the hand of Farquaad but, as we might have guessed, things do not go exactly as planned. This adventure takes a few odd turns before it reaches the happily-ever-after ending we demand to see even in the unconventional fairy tales. It would seem that in the world of computer animation, the standards for excellence are reset with every new film that is released. "Shrek," which was four years in the making, does raise the bar a bit more. But the animation alone isn't what makes "Shrek" so enjoyable. The secret of the film's success and audience appeal lies in the casting of its vocal talent, most notably, the fast talking Eddie Murphy who has never sounded better or funnier than as Shrek's "noble steed." Mike Myers, using a Scottish accent, gives the ogre a much needed "humanity" and sensitivity. As this odd couple, they weave together scenes of great pathos and comedy.
The weakness of the film, in the eyes of this reviewer, is the inclusion of some rather unoriginal bathroom humor (flatulence, belches and outhouse jokes being recurring favorites.) There is too much evidence of genuine wit behind this project for the filmmakers to resort to such crudity. Indeed, the film is the lesser for it.
In addition to the fairy tale frivolity that is infused within "Shrek," the filmmakers also insert some fun references to modern day culture: "The Matrix," Riverdance, the Macarena, "The Dating Game" and the WWF all get trotted out for a quick inside joke at various times during the course of action.
The underlying message is one that is both timeless and true: Whenever we "judge a book by its cover" we are often proved to be wrong. There is much more to an individual than the mere surface appearance. Even an ogre like Shrek who freely withdrew from having any contact with other creatures still had a suppressed desire for companionship. It was Donkey who first was able to break through the wall that Shrek had built around him. By ignoring Shrek's appearance, Donkey was able to at last reach Shrek's heart and form a true friendship.
As we go forth speaking God's Word to people, we must be careful not to predetermine in our minds those who we think will respond to God's message of salvation and deliverance and speak only to them. We cannot determine what is in the heart of a man or woman simply by looking at them.
"Be honest in your judgement and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearance); but judge fairly and righteously." John 7:24 (Amplified)
Let us be bold in speaking truth to all men. After all, the message we carry is no fairy tale.