I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I decided to see Shrek, but it turned out be a surprisingly clever and funny movie, in contrast to its trailers.
The movie is a fairy tale that parodies other fairy tales and works on two levels, capitalising on both the cynical adult and the innocent child-like viewpoints. The latter dominates the general theme of the plot:
Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) is a lonely ogre who hides his feelings behind an aggressive demeanor. Lord Farquaad (John Lithgrow) is a vertically-challenged ruler who wishes to marry a princess so he can become a prince. Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is held in a castle by a fire-breathing dragon waiting for her prince to save her. Lord Farquaad convinces Shrek to rescue Princess Fiona from the dragon. Shrek accomplishes this task, but also falls in love with the Princess. Princess Fiona shares the same feelings, but has a secret of her own. Miscommunications play upon their insecurities which drives Princess Fiona into the arms of Lord Farquaad.
Against that straight-forward story is a backdrop of famous fairy tale characters including the Three Blind Mice, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Robin Hood, the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Bears. The film makers also introduce a donkey named Donkey (Eddie Murphy) who brays some of the funniest (and some of the dumbest) lines in the film. This aspect is more likely to appeal to those who have an extensive knowledge of fairy tales and the subtleties involved. There are also a few parodies, including one of the classic The Matrix (one could see the coming as soon as Princess Fiona started kicking butt).
The animation is excellent, employing both technology and an intuitive feel for what works best in a motion picture to deliver the story. The music is pretty good also. Again, like with any other excellent animation movie, this film works because of the voices of the actors. In fact, I believe that voicing alone can make or break an animation flick and even though all these effects are cool, they're not necessary (look at South Park which has relatively poor animation but excellent voicing).
Shrek does not try to insult the audience with its ending and even though the two protagonists live happily ever after, the outcome isn't entirely expected (in fact, I was expecting a transformation by Shrek given Hollywood's tendency to sugarcoat films). The film showcases Hollywood's recognition of the fact that dualistic-thinking adults accompany children to films targeted for the younger crowd and that it is better to make and market films that speak to all ages (this is unfortunately a necessary viewpoint in today's society where a dichotomy exists between children and adults). I highly recommend checking Shrek out on the big screen.