Shrek is almost impossible to evaluate at face value. You can mark it lower for creating the lazy “celebrity voice cast + pop culture reference” formula of animated comedy; you can mark it higher for millennial nostalgia (this was the default movie substitute teachers turned on when I was in high school); you can mark it lower OR higher for its over-saturation in memes and pop culture.
I ultimately land on the positive side for the movie, but nowhere near the exuberance I felt towards it at age 18.
Let’s start with the movie’s problems: Much of the comedy boils down to “Hey, you’ve heard of this! Might be funny with farts!” Lazy anachronistic reference comedy, amplified by long-exhausted shock value of including irreverent Disney allusions.
The low-effort gags are all the more frustrating because the writers do show occasional cleverness: When the writers lean more into actual parody (like the “It’s a Small World” riff or the exaggeration of Robin Hood’s homoerotic undertones) the movie can be legitimately, enduringly funny.
I’m not sure the movie’s animation ever looked good, but — as with just about any pre-2008 non-Pixar CGI film — today, it looks horrid for the majority of the runtime. Shrek himself is fairly well-designed and -animated, but every human looks like a horrifying putty doll.
At least the movie has a coherent plot and memorable characters. Unlike other movies in the Dreamworks formula, the lead characters undergo at least some development, and the outing feels like a proper adventure, aurally enhanced moreso by John Powell’s score than the pop needle drops.
It’s a flawed, uneven romp, but a romp nonetheless. Perhaps its cultural reach and influence has surpassed its worth, but it’s still a modestly pleasant, occasionally grating, way to spend an hour and a half.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.