Shrek (2001)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Revoice Studio, Featurettes, Character Interviews, Games, Music Videos, Goofs, Storyboards, and much more

When "Shrek" arrived in theaters, I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone that it did extremely well. It was an animated film, had talking animals in it, a talented cast, a huge summer advertising and merchandising campaign, etc. The fact that it stands in November as the top grossing film of 2001, however, is still a surprise to almost everyone. Faced with what was thought to be serious competition from big budget war movies, numerous sequels and remakes, video game franchises come to life, and other animated movies, "Shrek" opened strong but won the box office by proving to have the legs that no other film this summer could match. It also had a decent story, something else many of those other movies were missing. With its theatrical success behind it, "Shrek" comes to home video to conquer another market. This time, I don’t think anyone doubts what the ugly green ogre and his talking ass can accomplish.

"Shrek" is a simple tale with a clever hook. Based upon the book by William Steig, we meet the title character, a big green ogre with trumpet-like ears as he makes his way from an outhouse and takes a shower in thick mud. It’s quickly obvious that this is not your normal fairy tale creature. Shrek (Mike Myers) is a private ogre, enjoying his days alone in his swamp, frightening those that trespass or wish him harm, but mostly keeping to himself and his mighty earwax. His privacy won’t last long though. Throughout the rest of the forest, the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) has announced a decree calling for the banishment of all fairy tale creatures from his "perfect" kingdom. The townspeople have gathered up these creatures, big and small, to sell to Farquaad’s men, and it is here where we first meet Donkey (Eddie Murphy), being sold-out by his human master. Through a bit of luck, Donkey is able to escape the clutches of the men and runs through the forest until he comes upon Shrek. With the men fast on his heels, Donkey seeks solace behind the ogre’s large frame and when the men get a good look at the hideous green beast, they forget about Donkey and return back in the direction they came from with great speed. Donkey, naturally, is convinced that Shrek has saved his life and proceeds to tell him so, and well, about everything else on his mind at the moment. Donkey is not only a talking donkey, but he is a talking donkey who will not stop talking. Of course, this doesn’t bode too well with Shrek’s solitary lifestyle and when Donkey follows him back to his swamp, it takes all the patience and kindness he can muster to allow the mule to stay there, outside of his house mind you, for just one night. During dinner, however, Shrek gets a bigger surprise than the company of a talking Donkey. After discovering three blind mice and a big bad wolf in his house, Shrek steps outside to find the banished fairy tale creatures on his property. All of them. Pinocchio, the seven dwarves, the three bears, Tinkerbell, they’re all there. On his property! Needless to say, Shrek is less than thrilled about the idea of his house becoming a makeshift refugee camp, so he demands to know what the heck they’re doing there. Donkey tells him about Lord Farquaad and Pinocchio assures him that they don’t want to be on Shrek’s property, only they have nowhere else to go. Being the reasonable ogre that he is, Shrek decides that he will have a talk with Farquaad and straighten this bit of nonsense right out. The crowd of creatures cheer and Donkey follows Shrek to be his guide to Duloc, home of Farquaad.

In the meantime, Lord Farquaad has run into his own little dilemma. When he asks the magic mirror if his kingdom is not the most perfect kingdom of all, Farquaad learns that he is not technically a king since he has not married a Princess. Not wanting to be anything less than perfect, Farquaad agrees to take a bride and is introduced to three possible candidates via the magic mirror. After some careful deliberation, he settles on Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), a beautiful Princess held at bay by a dragon in a castle set above a pit of boiling lava. In order for Fiona to be Farquaad’s wife, she must first be rescued. So, Farquaad decides to have a tournament where the winner will win the "honor" of being allowed to risk their own life to rescue the princess. God knows, Farquaad isn’t going to do himself.

Along their journey, Shrek and Donkey learn a little more about each other and again, Shrek’s patience is pushed to the limit by Donkey’s impossibly mobile mouth. Once they reach Duloc, they stumble upon the opening ceremony of Farquaad’s tournament. When the humans gain sight of the unsightly ogre, however, Farquaad decides to change the rules of the tournament to whoever kills the ogre wins the prize. When Shrek and Donkey clean the floors with the humans, Farquaad decides that the ogre can have his swamp back if he will rescue the princess and bring her back to him. Shrek says fine, Farquaad says fine, and ladies and gentlemen we have a deal.

I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who might not have seen "Shrek" (difficult as that is to imagine), but this is really where the movie kicks in for me. The castle sequence is amazing, and of course it’s no big surprise that Shrek and Donkey rescue Fiona. It is more surprising to actually meet Fiona and learn that there’s very little typical about her either, what with the burping, the ninja abilities, and the mysterious insisting that she be in bed behind closed doors by the time the sun goes down. Through their journey back to Duloc, it becomes clear to Donkey (and us too) that Shrek and Fiona are really starting to like each other. I know, it sounds crazy, right? How can a beautiful princess love an ugly smelly ogre? Well, that’s essentially what the movie’s about: not judging people by their exterior appearance. It’s a classic fairy tale kind of moral and it’s executed wonderfully in the last half of the film.

I’ve seen "Shrek" a couple of times now, and while I think some of the jokes aren’t as funny in repeat viewings, the story remains strong, the visuals of PDI Dreamworks’ animation become more impressive, and it’s clear that this is easily on target to become a family classic. I can only imagine how much I would love this film if I were less than ten years old, and even as an adult I find it near impossible not to watch and enjoy. It’s one of those films that you can throw on just to watch a specific scene or moment, and end up watching the whole thing from there on out. What has not faded on me whatsoever about this movie, is the vocal talents of both Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow. I think Murphy does a terrific job with Donkey, using a voice that’s not quite his own but easily familiar and making lines that aren’t punchlines sound funny. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said "it is very spooky in here and I ain’t playing no games" in the past three days, and I think that’s solely due to Eddie Murphy. John Lithgow, of course, has one of the best voices in the business and he delivers as expected yet again with Farquaad, a short man with a big head. All in all, "Shrek" is a lot of fun. The kids obviously love it, and if you’re an adult and you haven’t seen it, then you need to, if for no other reason, than to see how much fun they poke at the wonderful world of Disney. That stuff will always get a laugh.

The video on this two disc special edition DVD is presented in both <$PS,full frame> (1.33:1) and <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> (1.78:1), with the <$PS,full frame> transfer on disc one and the <$PS,widescreen> on the second disc. Like all other computer-animated films I’ve seen on DVD, "Shrek" looks flawless. The colors are perfect and vivid, details is crystal clear, and there are no effects, blemishes, grain, miscalculations, or anything that will convince you that this transfer isn’t terrific. Also like previous computer-animated films, this transfer of "Shrek" comes straight from a digital source and technically there is no film involved. The result is a fuller and sharper experience. Again, I feel I should point out the castle sequence and in particular the moment where Shrek and Donkey cross the swinging bridge. There are times during this scene where it actually looks like you’re watching incredibly smooth stop-motion or claymation animation that is not 2-D and instead has a depth that I did not believe a computer could create. I would also like to point out to parents that you should do you and your kids a favor and watch the <$PS,widescreen> version at least once to compare to the <$PS,full frame> version. I noticed during the scene where Farquaad first meets Fiona that Donkey is nearly completely cut out of the scene by the <$PS,full frame> composition. And I don’t think Donkey would like that.

Audio is also given what seems to be the normal treatment these days with Dreamworks, offering the listener both a <$DTS,DTS> and <$DD,Dolby Digital> track. Interestingly, however, the DTS track is available only on the second disc with the <$PS,widescreen> transfer, while the Dolby Digital plays on both discs. Either way you go, the audio is represented extremely well, with DTS gaining a slight nod due to a bit fuller sound and a little more low-end. Dialogue is very well mixed and clean, as one might imagine and expect from a film that is completely overdubbed. The surrounds are very active, with all kinds of little forest noises and murmuring of creatures and humans in crowd scenes. The score by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell sounds great and fits the film perfectly. Again, there is little to complain about here in the audio department.

Even without the monster success of "Shrek" I think most of us would have expected a very impressive array of special features for the DVD. Because of the monster success, I think it became imperative that the DVD be more than impressive. Well, surprise, surprise – it is. Although I would have liked a double wide keep case, what’s on these two discs is what’s important and let me tell you, these two puppies are packed. Disc one, first and foremost, is filled to the rim with features for you DVD-ROM drive that blow away anything I’ve ever seen on a DVD-ROM before. Even more impressive, they have a 1-800 number right there on the screen for people to call if they need help getting the features to work! The standout of these DVD-ROM features is called Shrek’s Revoice Studio which allows you to record you own voice over a character from the movie in 12 different scenes. This is an ingenious little feature and though I don’t understand exactly how it works, it is a lot of fun. Also on the DVD-ROM are 15 different games (some of which are accessible on regular DVD players as well) including a pinball game, a tic-tac-toe game with bugs and slugs, a bowling game, pin the tail on the donkey, and many more. One of my favorites is the character morph game, which allows you to mix and match the body parts of the four main characters. Also on disc one is a pretty good behind the scenes featurette on the making of "Shrek," featuring interviews with the cast and crew (Katzenberg included). Personally, I would have loved to see them talk about the audience reaction to the film, or what it was like to have the film in the Cannes Film Festival, but this is basically your standard run-of-the-mill making of. Something else new to me on this disc is an area called Dreamworks Kids that is accessible from the main menu of disc one. Once selected, you can then chose from a selection of favorite scenes, other games, and music videos by the Baha Men (who also have a making of) and Smash Mouth. Obviously geared towards kids, I thought this was a neat way to organize the features. Rounding out disc one, are a sneak peek at the upcoming traditionally animated film "Spirit: Stallion of Cimmaron," production notes, cast and crew bios, and a short music video of the characters from the film doing karaoke numbers that is quite funny (and is also referred to as the new extended ending, though it doesn’t appear in the film itself).

Disc Two has more features, including a running commentary with producer Aaron Warner, and directors Vicky Jensen and Andrew Adamson. This is a pretty good commentary, geared towards the technical side and very informative, but the three also seem to have a lot of fun together and it is obvious how proud they are of the film. They also hum the opening theme for us, which is nice of them. Next is a featurette called "The Tech of Shrek," which further delves into the animation process involved in making the film. If you’re into computer animation at all, there’s certainly a lot to learn here, as the animators explain just how far the technology has advanced and how the bar was raised since their previous feature, "Antz." Also on board, are a few storyboard pitches of scenes that didn’t make it to the computer. Obviously, these would have been a bit more enjoyable to watch had they actually been animated, but it is neat to at least here about other parts of the story that were planned, but ultimately rejected.

Another featurette is called "Technical Goofs" which show a couple scenes where a wrong command (or something) was given by the animators that resulted in odd changes to the characters’ physical attributes. Most of these scenes are very rough and from early stages of the animation process, but they’re mildly interesting. Again, you will also see some of this same footage in the other featurettes. The final featurette briefly introduces us to the world of International dubbing, and is fairly fun to watch the Spanish version of Donkey do his best Eddie Murphy. Next up is a character progression "reel," which is basically a series of sketches that you can surf through and notice how the concepts and designs for the characters changed in pre-production. Finally, we have the theatrical trailer, and hints for the Xbox video game of "Shrek," as well as the same production notes and cast and crew bios.

"Shrek" is a fun movie that has enough to offer adults that they can actually enjoy watching a movie with their kids. A huge success in the theater, the film arrives on DVD in a special edition that is packed to the gills with unique, informative, and interactive features, and audio and video that are hard to find fault with. It’s an easy recommendation. And it is also very spooky in here and I ain’t playing no games. Okay, I gotta stop that.