As Pixar developed a stranglehold on the digital animation market, there was only one company that managed to give them any competition. Dreamworks Animation managed to find a huge success with the Shrek series of films. Shrek is loosely based on a series of children’s books entitled Shrek! written by William Steig. Originally conceived by Steven Spielberg as a hand-drawn animation starring Bill Murray and Steve Martin, Shrek went through a long process to reach the big screen. When it was finally released it was such a huge commercial success that it spawned a series of sequels and latterly a Puss in Boots spin-off.
Shrek (Mike Myers) is an ogre who lives a quiet life in his swamp. One day, the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), who hates fairytale creatures, banishes them all to Shrek’s swamp, causing him to set out to speak with Farquaad and get them moved off his property. Farquaad promises to do this if Shrek will travel, along with companion Donkey (Eddie Murphy) to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon’s keep and return her to marry Farqaad and solidify his rule over the Kingdom of Dulac.
When Shrek was released in 2001 it was something of a revelation. Parodying and satirising previous animated classics (mainly Disney fairytales), it carefully subverts the conventions of the genre with surprising wit and humour. This is achieved by a voice acting cast who really get under the skin of their characters. The standouts are Myers (straight man) and Murphy (smart arse) as the mismatched duo at the centre of Shrek, but notable roles for Lithgow, Diaz and Vincent Cassel all help to flesh out the universe that these characters inhabit.
Shrek is not just for kids either, there are plenty of jokes for all ages that helped it gain such popularity. It’s all part of the wry parodying that the production team instill within the film. Shrek has everything from Lord Farquaad living in what is effectively Disneyland all the way through to the rapid fire jokes and visual gags that lace the centre of the film. It even has the audacity to look every bit as wonderful as Pixar releases of the time.
While it lacks the emotional clout of Toy Story, and loses its wicked humoured edge in the final act, Shrek is still one of the funniest instalments in the computer animated genre and a future classic that happily rivals Pixar’s domination. It also helped pave the way for other great Dreamworks animations like How to Train Your Dragon and the remaining Shrek instalments, which is quite the legacy of a film that casts an ogre as its hero.