The challenge with each animated film these days, Disney or otherwise, is to push the artistic boundaries of what has gone before. Like Disneys Dinosaur (2000), Shrek leaps out beyond the tentative steps of the first CGI feature Toy Story (1995) with a stunning degree of virtual realism in its computer-animation. The depth of field in some of the background shots or the sudden view down the ravine into the lava flow have a breathtaking clarity. The sets are designed with remarkable three-dimensional detail the tournament court and the castle where the princess is held are designed with a depth and better used than the sets in many live-action films. Few people realise the remarkable quality of detail that has gone into the film little touches like the naturalistic way the donkeys fur ripples, or the leaves on the tree rustling in the breeze and the sparks rising from the fire.
Of course, what makes Shrek is the wit and the sly asides it makes in the direction of other fairytales. All manner of fairytale characters make appearances the Three Bears, Pinocchio, Snow White, The Seven Dwarfs and the Magic Mirror, the Big Bad Wolf, the gingerbread man and a bizarre incarnation of Robin Hood as a French seducer Monsieur Hood. Shrek is nearly worth the price of admission for the hilarious final scene with all the fairytale characters engaged in a rocknroll number. The screenplay comes from Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who also wrote DreamWorks The Road to El Dorado and Disneys Aladdin (1992), which had a similarly irreverent and anachronistic attitude towards its source. There are a good many modern asides with Shreks defeating of his opponents at the tournament suddenly turning into a WWF wrestling match and one hilarious throwaway gag that parodies The Matrix (1999) Bullet Time martial arts. Like A Knights Tale (2001), released at exactly the same time as Shrek, the film comes packed with jarringly anachronistic modern rock songs (something that is going to date the film in a few years time).
This aside, the script is quite delightful in its puncturing of fairytale cliches like the donkeys succeeding in overcoming the dragon by wooing it, or Shreks failing to quite fulfil the princesss romantic expectations of her rescuer. The central character arcs are easy and predictable, but Shrek is constantly charming. The films sense of humour is positively hilarious, especially the wonderfully silly throwaway gags that come during Shrek and the princesss courtship, there being one particularly hilarious one involving animal balloons. The stars cast in the four central voice performances deliver some of their most engaging work.
Shrek 2 (2004) was a sequel, featuring a return appearance from co-director Andrew Adamson and most of the voice cast, but this disappointingly amplified the fairytale parody and contemporary gags to the point of overkill. The series was continued with Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010). There have been a number of other spinoffs such as Shrek 4D (2003), a 12-minute 3D short designed as part of the Universal Studios tour, the Christmas tv special Shrek the Halls (2007) and the upcoming theatrical film Puss in Boots (2011). In 2002, Shrek became the first film to win the newly instituted Academy Award for Best Animated Film.
Co-director Andrew Adamson next moved into live-action with the big-budget adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), followed by Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (2012). Co-director Vicky Jenson went on to co-direct DreamWorks Shark Tale (2004).