Thursday, 4 September 2014

Animation Turnaround #1: Shrek (2001)

Welcome to Animation Turnarounds, a new section where I will review animated films that, for one reason or another, represented a change of direction for their respective animation studios and the industry in general. Unlike the Disney Retrospectives, these reviews won't be in chronological order and will feature a variety of films from different studios and nationalities. So, join me in celebrating these films that have made a dent in the animation industry, starting right now with Shrek:

Shrek arrived at the best time for the animation industry and for its studio, DreamWorks Animation, which up until that point was playing second fiddle to Disney Animation (which was entering its darkest era yet) and rising star Pixar Animation Studios, which had been revolutionizing the animation industry since Toy Story's release in 1995. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted to create a studio that could rival these titans but, in its first years, DreamWorks was not seen as serious competition. Shrek changed that and not only turned DreamWorks Animation into a powerhouse studio but also, for better or for worse, became the template of how its films (and many films from other studios too) were made for most of the last decade.

Shrek came at a time when fairy tale films were winding down and most people were tired of them. By spoofing them, the story felt fresh and original, and the adult jokes and innuendos were welcomed by the adult audience. Add in pop culture references and celebrity voice casting, and Shrek created the template by which most animated films were created for the greater part of the last decade (and still to some extent are today). True, Aladdin was the first film that did that, but Shrek took it to a whole new world (pun intended) and cemented this formula as a recipe for success in the animation industry. The film was a box office success, put DreamWorks Animation on the map and won the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature, beating Pixar's Monsters, Inc.

But, how does the film hold up after all these years and after its franchise has ended (at least for now)? Pretty well, I must say. True some jokes are not funny anymore and some pop culture references feel dated, but, on the whole, Shrek still offers a nice, funny story with some heart underneath its wacky tale. The three leads still remain pretty strong and entertaining. I still think it was a nice twist to make the ogre, who is usually the antagonist, the hero and fall for a human woman (at least for most of the film). Shrek is an imperfect and lonely guy who is very sensible on the inside, Fiona remains a very spunky character and her chemistry with Shrek remains great, and Donkey is still a funny sidekick. Moreover, Lord Farquaad remains a funny and yet menacing villain who is another highlight of the film. The animation is a little bit dated, but still holds on fairly well and it's not a distraction.

The 'Shrek phenomenon' has dimmed since the first film was released, mainly because many lesser films were trying to copy its formula without the same level of success. Shrek has often been maligned because it started a trend of films that felt juvenile and sitcom-esque. However, when viewing without any baggage, Shrek remains a strong and funny film and its influence in the animation industry is undeniable. Rating: 4/5.

Next Week:

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