"Shrek" mischievously spoofs and honors the fairy-tale tradition. 

Fractured Fairy Tale

Reviewers say it all the time, but in this instance it's true: The computer-animated "Shrek" is as much fun for adults as it is for kids. Movies that appeal to and entertain viewers from 4 to 100 are rare cinematic creatures, and "Shrek" not only joins those lofty ranks, it raises the bar several notches.

Both simple and sophisticated, this tale of an unattractive green ogre's journey from solitude and oblivion to unexpected true love will tug at your heartstrings, but always with a knowing twinkle and bit of humor. Besides standing every time-honored storytelling convention on its ear and revitalizing the animated tale's stylistic flourishes, "Shrek" also lands more than a few jabs at the past master of the form, Disney.

Insiders have had tongues wagging since the first character sketches were released, because if one looks closely, "Shrek's" villain appears to be a "morphed" mix of John Lithgow (who voices the pint-sized, power-hungry Lord Farquaad) and Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The character, who rules over a theme-parklike kingdom is downright hissable. The fact that this screwball fable also contains a big-bucks revenge by DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg on his former Disney boss just adds to the fun.

While Disney folks won't like it a bit, "Shrek" has a great deal in common with "Dumbo," one of the Mouse Factory's most charming and enduring cartoons. Both play the "Ugly Duckling" angle for all its worth, tapping into each viewer's secret fears of not fitting in or ever being found worthy of love. But instead of an ungainly tiny elephant with humongous ears, "Shrek's" title character is an ogre, the scourge of the fairy tale.

At first glance, Shrek is quite off-putting. Not only is he a bilious shade of green and redolent with a foul scent — his flatulence has been known to kill fish — the poor ogre has terrible table manners. Shrek, played and voiced by Mike Myers in a droll accent that's a wee bit reminiscent of his "Austin Powers" character, Fat Bastard, is everything a fairy-tale hero is not.

You see, Shrek hates everybody. He chooses to live far away from the rest of fairy-tale humanity in his swamp. He's perfectly content to dwell there in his solitude, but Shrek's world quickly changes thanks to Lord Farquaad. The little despot rounds up all the fairy-tale critters in his domain and banishes them to Shrek's swamp. With his tranquility thus shattered by the arrival of blind mice, three little homeless pigs, a big bad wolf and a wooden boy with a long nose, Shrek is beside himself.

But not one of these critters gets under his skin like the wisecracking donkey (played with sidesplitting comic patter by Eddie Murphy). Against his better judgment, Shrek accepts Donkey's offer to guide him to Farquaad's kingdom of Duloc, so he can put a stop to the swamp's population boom. Once inside Duloc, where "Shrek's" animators — many of whom are ex-Disneyites — take those well-aimed potshots at the Magic Kingdom, Shrek and Farquaad cut a deal: If Shrek rescues Farquaad's Princess Bride (a spirited and charming Cameron Diaz) from the faraway den of a fire-breathing dragon, the swamp will be returned to its former nearly uninhabited state.

So Shrek and Donkey set out to claim Princess Fiona, but our two hapless knights run into all sorts of surprises and snares. Then again, nothing about this animated feature behaves as expected. From the computer magicians who etched and sketched Shrek's world, to the music, to the plot, to the slightly skewed characters, "Shrek" unreels with one clever delight after another. Until, of course, true love puts in an appearance and the music swells, playing Neil Diamond's rendition of "I'm A Believer." And by then, of course, you're a believer too.

Besides marking a considerable advance in the technical side of computer-generated animation, "Shrek" also scores on the emotional scale, offering a movie experience to cherish.


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