Once upon a time in the kingdom of Disney, there was a prince named Jeffrey. After a struggle with King Eisner, um, I mean Farquaar, he was banished. But in the land of Hollywood, banishment apparently means collecting $250 million from your former employers and then lampooning them in bad movies.
It's not that "Shrek," the new DreamWorks project produced by Katzenberg, is worthless; its computer animation is comparable to the "Toy Story" movies, and there are plenty of laughs, mostly scatological in orientation. But the film spends so much time being cleverly hip and spoofing all things Disney that it struggles to find its own identity. The plot is little more than a simple fable with the cliché message of not judging a book by its cover thrown in, which is ironic since the movie spends most of its time trying to both lambaste and turn on its ear conventional fairy-tale animation.
Shrek is an ogre who lives contentedly as a hermit until the day his woods are overrun by bizarre fairy-tale creatures, banished from their own kingdom, apparently by the evil Lord Farquaar. This must be the best way writers could find to include characters as diverse as Pinocchio -- "a possessed toy," as he is described -- the three little pigs and Snow White. And the only way Shrek can gain back his happy isolation is to seek out Farquaar and beg him to send the creatures back from whence they came.
Shrek, voiced surprisingly well by Mike Myers, is accompanied by a wisecracking donkey (Eddie Murphy) on a voyage to the evil lord's kingdom, which is part castle, part theme park. After passing through the turnstile and being sung to by dolls straight out of "it's a small world," they are given their task: rescue the beautiful princess Fiona and bring her to Farquaar (John Lithgow).
The stars of "Shrek" are the animation and the references to Disney, not the story. The landscapes are spectacular, and much of the character animation is good, too, despite the humans' jerky movements. Some of the musical choices are also clever, such as Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But it is the title character with whom we feel sympathy, especially when he falls in unrequited love with Fiona (an uninspired Cameron Diaz).
Doubtless, "Shrek" will be a hit with audiences. But we learn more about Katzenberg than about frailties and love.