reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, May 17, 2001
DreamWorks' digitally animated "Shrek" is a hilarious misogynistic satire on fairy tales. It will delight nine year old boys of all ages and sexes who find Disney cartoon features too girly.
Mike Myers ("Austin Powers") provides the voice of Shrek, a gross, flatulent green ogre. Shrek happily lives alone in his filthy swamp, where he makes candles out of his own earwax. Then, Lord Farquaad, an extremely short bad guy (voiced by extremely tall good guy John Lithgow of "Third Rock from the Sun"), ruler of a nearby domain of Disneyland-like sterility, starts ethnically cleansing all his fairy tale creatures. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and a host of other tiresome public domain Disney cartoon refugees end up squatting in Shrek's swamp.
To persuade the petite princeling to send his unwanted guests packing, Shrek agrees to rescue Princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz, the blonde in "Charlie's Angels") from a dragon-guarded castle so the squat scoundrel can marry the beauty.
Accompanying Shrek on his quest is his sidekick Donkey. He's played by Eddie Murphy in what might be his funniest role ever. Forcing Murphy to restrict himself to PG-rated jokes makes him a lot more amusing than when he's given freedom to express his own NC-17 inner self.
To pay for all this rude fun, the audience must ultimately swallow its moralistic medicine. The movie's message is that it's not what you look like on the outside that matters, but what you are really like on the inside. This sermon is of course absurdly hypocritical, since "Shrek" hammers home joke after joke about Farquaad's lack of height. Movies, being inherently visual, can't help but teach that how you look matters immensely in life (which, unfortunately, is true.)
At a Beverly Hills screening for media types and their children, the Hollywood journalists howled at the nonstop slaps at the Disney Empire. The kids seemed to enjoy "Shrek," too.
Yet, will any grown-up east of the Hollywood Freeway care that DreamWorks' co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg appears to be using "Shrek" to stick it to his former boss, Disney supremo Michael Eisner, by making the midget villain look like Eisner? Does it matter to anybody west of the Hudson River that DreamWorks is apparently trying out a marketing strategy of going after boys alienated by Disney's focus on the girls aged 2 to 11 segment?
Apparently, yes. A lot of people with no financial stake in The Industry still seem interested in this behind-the-scenes stuff. This vicarious involvement recalls when free agency came to baseball. All the experts predicted that exposing fans to the money-grubbing details of contract negotiations would disillusion them. Instead, free agency gave enthusiasts something to talk about all winter, and baseball became even more popular.
My wife says the only reason she ever reads movie reviews is to learn facts or wisecracks about new movies that she can use to impress her friends. So, I'll recount the background, but try to put it in a broader perspective than the usual personality gossip. The story sheds more than a little light on the diversity of human nature.
Beginning with Disney's 1928 Mickey Mouse debut "Steamboat Willie," male characters, such as Donald Duck or Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, have dominated short comedy cartoons. That's because the short cartoons require recyclable characters that never mature, never marry, and never even learn not to trust the latest jet-propelled contraption from Acme.
Starting with 1937's "Snow White," however, Disney's feature-length animated movies have tended to please little girls more than little boys. "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," and the like have shown that female stories are best suited to a single long feature. Girls' favorite narratives are still that tale as old as time: a virgin Princess meets Prince Charming, falls in love, marries, and lives happily ever after. Female lives are simply less laughable than male lives.
The exception that proves the rule that Disney's long form cartoons have become associated in the public imagination with girls is "Bambi," which is the 1942 story of the sexual maturation of a virile young buck. When adults would ask my two-year-old son which part of "Bambi" he liked best, they'd be baffled when he'd fiercely reply, "The fighting part! When Bambi shoves the big bad deer over the cliff!" Adults now think Bambi was a girl, which is why so many strippers use "Bambi" as their stage name.
After Walt Disney's 1966 death, Disney animation lost its leadership. In 1984, after narrowly escaping the clutches of Wall Street raiders like Saul Steinberg, the Bass Brothers, and Ivan Boesky, the Disney Board of Directors finally realized that their movie studio's reputation for anti-Semitism - whether deserved or not - was preventing Disney from hiring the best entertainment executive talent. This would doom Disney to a hostile takeover. So, the Board hired Michael Eisner as Chairman, who quickly brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg to run the Disney studio.
In turn, Katzenberg's key hire would prove to be Howard Ashman, a gay lyricist best known for "Little Shop of Horrors." Before dying of AIDS in 1991, Ashman revitalized Disney's legendary but moribund animation franchise by persuading Katzenberg to turn "The Little Mermaid" into a cartoon version of a classic Broadway musical. "Beauty and the Beast" cemented the Disney-Broadway link.
While vastly profitable, Ashman's musical theatre style tended to alienate older little boys during their girl-hating phase. For example, my oldest son turned against Disney animated features at age eight, and my youngest boy even sooner. This left a market niche for Katzenberg to fill at DreamWorks, after his acrimonious departure from Disney.
So, while Shrek and Princess Fiona eventually fall in love, it doesn't happen until after she sheds all those icky romantic girly ideas cribbed from "Sleeping Beauty." Fiona wins Shrek's heart by belching, beating up Robin Hood's Merry Men (who act like Broadway chorus boys) with cool "Matrix"-style kung fu, and cooking the Blue Bird of Happiness' eggs for breakfast.
"Shrek" demonstrates that among little boys, male chauvinism is a not a fear that girls would want to act like boys if society allowed them to, but a terror that what girls really want to act like are … girls.
"Shrek" is rated "PG" for much vulgarity.