Following the critical winner Antz, Shrek finds that film's collaborators, Dreamworks and Pacific Data Images, returning in similarly state-of-the-art visual form -- but with fewer of the insights and laughs. It's not for lack of effort. Right from the strange device that sets the plot in motion -- hundreds of familiar fairy tale characters are cast out of the land where they somehow coexist, dumped in the idyllic swamp where the title character previously enjoyed his privacy -- the film bursts with an "everything for everyone" quality. This diffuse approach allows for some dynamite animation opportunities, but it leaves things feeling scattershot. For example, why do an inexplicably French Robin Hood and his band of thieves materialize for a song and dance near the end, only to vanish almost immediately? So that Cameron Diaz's spunky Princess Fiona can dispatch them using Matrix-style freeze-and-spin karate moves. Amusing and visually dazzling, sure, but one anachronistic cultural reference after another piles up in this fashion, to the detriment of the film's cohesiveness. Because Fiona doesn't appear until the second half, Shrek's only constants are Mike Myers, noticeably constrained by the role of straight man, and Eddie Murphy as the exhausting Donkey, essentially reprising his all-talk sidekick from Mulan. Murphy continues the unfortunate tradition in animated movies of the loudmouth comic relief from whom the audience needs immediate relief. Knowing that the film is also a thinly veiled attack at Disney, which kicked out Dreamworks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994, makes Shrek something of a bitter affair. Its vibrant colors and glorious artwork make it a visual feast, but the script's weaknesses keep it from reaching the upper echelon of animated movies.
by Derek Armstrong review