Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, John and Tim comment on the movies, with John writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
Reviewed by John J. Puccio
"Shrek" was a monster hit in the summer of 2001 and was so successful it spawned three sequels. Now we get all four of them together in one, big Blu-ray package, including the last and final chapter in the saga, "Shrek Forever After"; and like most such collections, it contains some movies that viewers will probably like and others they probably won't. This is for sure, though: All the movies look and sound great in high-definition picture and sound.
Whether you'll take to the films at all may depend on how much you like animated cartoons. Or how much you don't like them. The first movie, "Shrek," from 2001, which I still think is the best of all, works in a devious way as a kind of anti-animation, doing as much to deconstruct and demolish the traditional Disney approach to cartoons as anything ever has. I found its high energy level and unyielding cleverness a little self-defeating in the end, but, otherwise, it's a blast.
First, it's computer animated, so maybe comparing it to older, pre "Toy Story" Disney is a tad unfair. Let's just say it's very up-to-date, with images that are multidimensional and highly textured. Next, it's very hip. Indeed, "Shrek" is cool and totally awesome; I loved it. Maybe I didn't love it as much as I did the "Toy Story" films, which have more heart, but "Shrek" takes that heart, cuts it out, slow roasts it, and serves it up as a buffet for ravenous viewers. Delicious.
The movie's basic gambit is to draw on all the conventions of children's cartoons and fairy tales and turn them upside down in about as irreverent a manner possible within the bounds of a PG-13 rated film. This begins in grand style by setting the story in a long-ago land where the evil (and puny) Lord Farquaad (voice characterization by John Lithgow) is rounding up and deporting all the fairy-tale creatures in his kingdom. They're being "relocated," as he calls it, to improve the neighborhood, thereby touching on racism and bigotry right off. Gepeto sells out his puppet, Pinocchio; other folk herd up the Three Bears, Red Riding Hood, Tinker Bell, the Gingerbread Man, and the Wicked Witch, all of them carted off, along with the Three Little Pigs, Snow White and the dwarfs, and every goblin, gnome, and pixie in the land. Farquaad has kicked all of them out to the swamp. Shrek's swamp.
Shrek is a huge, green ogre, who doesn't exactly take to all these new critters squatting on his property. Shrek looks mean but has the proverbial heart of gold. "Sometimes things are more than they appear," he says. Mike Myers voices him, Myers showing a remarkable talent for creating new personas in each of his films. Here he recycles his Scottish accent from the second "Austin Powers" movie, and except for what I thought were occasional lapses in dialect, he does a more than credible job. In fact, I thought at first that Robbie Coltrane was doing the voice. In any case, Myers leaves a distinct impression with the viewer, something not every actor can do with voice alone. However, Eddie Murphy upstages Myers as the talking, wiseass ass, Shrek's comical sidekick known only as "Donkey." I daresay, Murphy's nonstop chatter ("Yeah, getting him to shut up's the thing") and constant smart remarks are what a lot of viewers will probably remember most about the film long after its plot and secondary figures have faded into obscurity. Unlike some of Murphy's equally caustic comedic contemporaries, he has the knack (at least in the "Shrek" films) of being able to make his characters appear irksome and obnoxious yet lovable and endearing at the same time.
Anyway, Shrek gets annoyed by all these newcomers and goes off to Lord Farquaad to try to get his swamp back and regain some peace and quiet. Farquaad, meanwhile, has more schemes of his own. Not only does he want to rule the most orderly community in the world, he wants to rule it as a real king, not a mere "Lord." So he consults his Magic Mirror, which tells him he must marry a princess to become a king. And the most likely candidate for such a marriageable arrangement is the Princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz. Trouble is, she's imprisoned in a castle surrounded by molten lava and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. Now, here's the deal Farquaad makes with Shrek: If Shrek can rescue the Princess and bring her back for Farquaad to marry, Shrek can have his swamp back in peace. Thus, the adventure begins, with Shrek and Donkey off to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona.
You can see that the plot resembles, in part at least, a traditional fairy tale. But along the way, the story turns almost everything you've ever read or seen about bold knights and daring rescues inside out. For one thing, a moderate degree of grossness is the order of the day. Mild bathroom humor abounds, flatulence jokes, that sort of thing. Kids will especially love bits like Shrek pulling earwax from his ear to fashion a candle. For adults, matters can sometimes seem a bit too juvenile, but one can see it's all in good fun, and nothing is ever outrageously insulting or outright crude.
I continue to laugh a lot in this movie. I particularly like the parody of Mel Brooks's own parody, "Men in Tights," about halfway through the story, and a brief tribute to "Crouching Tiger." But remember I said a moment ago that the movie tosses on its head "almost" everything about traditional fairy tales. I wish the movie had maintained its comfortable digs and prods until the very end, but, instead, it concludes with a wholly satisfying yet vexingly conventional fairy-tale finish. I have no idea how the movie might have ended any other way, but I felt a tinge of regret that its charming irreverence had let up at the last.
John's film value for "Shrek": 8/10
Reviewed by Tim Raynor
After three years in the waiting from the first release of "Shrek," "Shrek 2" finally arrived. For an eleven-year old, like my daughter, the wait seemed an eternity, and as for me, it seemed like the first "Shrek" film was released yesterday. Oh, how time flies when you get older. Pleasantly, though, the wait is always worth it when you know it's a movie you enjoyed in the theater.
I personally enjoyed "Shrek 2," but in all fairness, I really didn't think it was any funnier than its predecessor. There are a few new laughs and a few repeated laughs we got in the first "Shrek." There is plenty of comedy for kids as well as enough jokes to entice adults, too. In other words, it does make for some good family entertainment, regardless if most of the humor is no more than slight chuckles. In fact, the best laughs come in the second half of the movie; thus, the pacing of the first half of the film seems vaguely slow and tedious. Not that this is a bad thing because I find it is better for a film to pick up its pace in the latter half rather than dying a slow death in the end.
In "Shrek 2", we are taken away on another whirlwind adventure with Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) as they are to travel to the kingdom of Far Far Away. Once they arrive, they are to meet Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, where they are to receive a formal blessing of their marriage. The King and Queen are played by none other than Julie Andrews and the delightfully funny John Cleese. Of course, on their arrival the King and Queen are shocked to find their daughter married to a terrible ogre and to see that their daughter has chosen her cursed appearance as an ogre.
As the plot thickens, we find out that Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) was to be the one to rescue and marry Princess Fiona in the first movie; however, we all know how that turned out. Not to worry, though, Prince Charming's mother happens to be the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and will do anything to work her wicked magic in her son's favor. The plan is to get rid of Shrek no matter what the cost so that Prince Charming can move in and take Princess Fiona's hand in marriage.
I certainly found the Fairy Godmother's part to be quite the comical twist on what we have all grown up to think of her. We have always seen the Fairy Godmother as a kind and giving fairy, but this one plays more like a villainess celebrity with a bad eating disorder when she becomes angry.
Early on in the second half of the film, we are also introduced to a new character known as Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). Puss in Boots is a charming little cat that plays his part like the notorious, swashbuckling Zorro. Funny how Antonio Banderas is the voice of a character that obviously pokes fun at the character he actually played several years ago. Puss was originally hired by the King to kill Shrek, but upon meeting Shrek and Donkey, he finds that he has misjudged his victim and decides to befriend them. Puss is certainly a charming and delightful addition to the duo of Shrek and Donkey.
As in the first "Shrek", there are plenty of inside jokes that poke fun at corporate America. It's quite obvious that the Kingdom of Far Far Away is a direct pun on Disney World, yet it also looks like Hollywood. One of my favorite scenes is when our new trio hires the Muffin Man to bake a giant-sized gingerbread man. The gingerbread man terrorizes the kingdom of Far Far Way much like what we would see in a Godzilla movie. He finds a Farbucks coffee house to terrorize, which looks identical to Starbucks, logo and all. Below, the townspeople run screaming in terror from the Farbucks coffee shop and run across the street to hide in another Farbucks. This, of course, is a direct pun on the Starbucks empire, which I found to be a total riot.
Yet another scene pokes fun at the television reality show "Cops." Instead of being called "Cops," the show is titled "Knights." In this scene, we watch the Knights bust Donkey and Shrek and throw them into a horse-driven patty wagon. The funniest take-off is when the Knights arrest Puss in Boots and find a bag of catnip in his possession. Of course, Puss's reaction is, "It's not mine." And this is but a few of the inside jokes that are so ever present in "Shrek 2." As with the first film, you really need to pay close attention, or you may simply miss the jokes altogether. However, if you do miss anything, then this is what makes the film fun to watch a second time. As for me, I have an eleven-year old daughter, so I'm sure I'll end up seeing this movie more times than I'll need to.
The bottom line is, "Shrek 2" is a charming and delightful film with as much zest and vigor as the original. I can't say it was funnier or better than its predecessor was, but it is close enough to be just as entertaining as the first. Even the overall theme is the same, and that is the message that true beauty is on the inside.
Even before the first "Shrek" film was released in 2001, I had always said it would be great to see Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in a comedy together. With the talents of the both of them playing multiple characters in their films (Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" and Myers in the "Austin Powers" movies), it's a wonder no one has come up with a script to have them play multiple roles together. Granted, the late Peter Sellers was actually one of the men who personified the idea of multiple characters in comedy, it would still be quite entertaining to see what Myers and Murphy could accomplish. For now, the "Shrek" franchise will have to do.
Tim's film value for "Shrek 2": 7/10
SHREK THE THIRD
Reviewed by John J. Puccio
Some movie continuations work out fine; some don't. For "Shrek the Third" (2007), it's hard to believe that the filmmakers took what started out as a cute, satiric fairy tale that both children and adults could enjoy equally and turned it into a series of glib, superficial catch phrases and halfhearted attempts at forced sentimentality. Yes, they kept the colorful characters, but they left a lot of the characters' spirit behind. Nevertheless, this isn't to suggest that it's a completely terrible movie or a total waste of time. Not at all, as it does offer some enjoyment, especially in the purely visual department in high definition Blu-ray. It's just that there is always that first movie lingering in the back of one's mind as a vehicle of continual comparison. And "Shrek the Third" simply does not measure up.
"I haven't had a trip that bad since college!" --Donkey, "Shrek the Third
The usual characters and voice talents are back, with Mike Myers as Shrek, Eddie Murphy as Donkey, Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona, Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, Julie Andrews as Queen Lillian, John Cleese as King Harold, and Rupert Everett as Prince Charming, plus Justin Timberlake, Eric Idle, Larry King, Ian McShane, Regis Philbin, Susan Blakeslee, the list goes on and on. Chris Miller directs, with help from co-director Raman Hui, the supervising animator on the first two "Shrek" releases.
The newest movie takes up pretty much where the second one left off. It's all about the backstage machinations that ensue when the frog king dies, leaving his office to a reluctant Shrek. Jason will tell you more about that below.
Donkey continues to steal the show, of course, with Puss in Boots an able accomplice, and yet they don't seem to have as much to do anymore. They just tag along and make wisecracks here and there. Frankly, a lot of the movie is merely tedious, with a few laughs in the beginning, followed by a whole lot of schmaltz, a really flat middle, another good laugh at the end, and then a decline into mushiness. I mean, unless you think butt scratching, puke jokes, poop gags, and slapstick falling down are funny, it's going to be a really long movie for you. And how many cartoons can you remember where a funeral sets the opening mood, especially one accompanied by Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die"?
Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is the villain, and he's more creepy than he is fun or amusing. I found Ian McShane's Captain Hook a better, more traditional scoundrel by overplaying his hand (pun intended). The whole of "Shrek the Third" seems watered down. There is no longer much or any spark, any exaggeration, any outrageousness, any of the silliness or pluck or bedevilment we found in the first movie. Not even Donkey has very many good lines, and when he still manages to be one of the best parts of the show, you know something is wrong.
The filmmakers try hard to make the characters more lovable than ever, which may have been a mistake. They mainly just seem softer. The movie intends for Artie (Justin Timberlake), the true heir to the throne, to be a dorky loser teenager, yet he comes off looking, acting, and sounding like anything but. What's that about? And how come the kingdom of Far Far Away doesn't have an army or even a few loyal guards hanging around the castle?
The best thing "Shrek the Third" has going for it is its look, which is quite attractive. The computer-generated animation has a wonderful fairy-tale quality to it and is among the better-rendered CGI creations I've seen. All the same, it isn't enough to save the film from itself. Let me put it another way: I liked Larry King best of all as one of the ugly stepsisters, if that tells you anything.
"I've been abra-cadabra'd into a Fancy Feastin', second-rate sidekick!" --Donkey, "Shrek the Third
John's film rating for "Shrek the Third": 5/10
SHREK FOREVER AFTER
Reviewed by John J. Puccio
Although 2010's "Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter" is not at all a bad movie, it's probably the best place for the series to end. It doesn't match the first two "Shrek" films for humor or heart, but it does easily surpass "Shrek the Third." So why not go out while you're ahead?
The thing about this new "Shrek Forever After" is that unlike the second and third installments, which were pretty much add-on adventures that merely used the same characters from the first movie, much as the Bond films use a few major characters and put them into entirely new circumstances, "Shrek 4" is closer to a genuine sequel. It takes up only a year or after the close of episode one. In other words, you could take films one and four and put them together as one complete story, whereas epsisodes two and three were more or less peripheral adventures that stood on their own.
The other thing about "Shrek 4" is that it is far more serious and sentimental than numbers two or three, attempting to replicate as much of the sweetness of the original "Shrek" as possible at the expense of the original movie's humor, parody, and satire. For me, this was a mistake. Not that there aren't a few good gags in the newest movie, but they are just that: few, and far between.
Nevertheless, there is much to like in this final chapter. The story begins a year or two after the first "Shrek" ended, with Shrek and Fiona happily married, with triplets in tow. Shrek and his family live in Shrek's old house in the swamp--with Donkey, Dragon, and their family--and everything seems happily ever after. Almost. But, you see, Shrek has his doubts. He wonders if this is all there is to life: a wife and kids and taking out the garbage and having tour buses come by pointing out his house to the curious. He wishes he could maybe have things back the way they were, if only for a day. That's when he makes a deal with a sorcerer, Rumpelstiltskin, to relive a day in his past. But Rump deceives him, changing the world to what it would have been like had Shrek never been born.
It's a very different world, indeed, one in which Rumpelstiltskin is the dictator, Donkey never met Dragon, Puss in Boots is fat, wicked witches enforce the laws, the Pied Piper makes everyone pay, and Fiona is the warrior leader of a group of resistance-fighting ogres. It's a terrible world, all because Shrek was never in it to put it right. Yes, it is "It's a Wonderful Life" all over again, with Shrek in the role of George Bailey.
Most of the usual characters are back, with the same voice talents: Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy), Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), the Queen (Julie Andrews), the King (John Cleese), with a few new voices supplied by John Hamm, Craig Robinson, Walt Dohrn (who had done several other voices in previous "Shrek" films but here does Rumpelstiltskin), Jane Lynch, Mary Kay Place, Meredith Vieira, and many more.
Another plus for the film is its technical beauty. It does look marginally better than the first three films in its attention to animation. In theaters DreamWorks projected it in 1.44:1 IMAX 3-D, 1.85.1 3-D, and 2.35:1 2-D. Here we get the 2-D version, but it's plenty good enough, with seemingly more minute detail in every frame than we've seen previously. It's exceptionally lovely to look at, if still not quite up to DreamWorks's own "How to Train Your Dragon" from the same year.
Above all, "Shrek Forever After" is a romantic adventure, with a good deal of emphasis on the romance. It's sweet and gentle, and the conclusion, while expected, carries a good deal of touching sentiment. I can't say I liked "Shrek 4" more than "Shrek 2," and certainly not more than the original "Shrek," but it beats "Shrek the Third" by a mile and a troll.
By the way, the folks at DreamWorks absolutely, positively claim this is the last "Shrek" movie, the end of the line, the final stop. However, when a film earns over $737,000,000 at the box office worldwide, it can change plans and opinions. We'll see.
John film rating for "Shrek Forever After": 6/10
The films have computer-generated imagery, and they're in Blu-ray high definition. So, what did you expect them to look like? They all look terrific. In fairness, though, I must repeat a belief of mine that most good animation--traditional 2D or computer-generated 3-D--shows up well in high def. The video does not have to cope with the nuances of human faces, characters, or real-life objects. So, yes, with DreamWorks using double-layered BD50's and MPEG-4 codecs, the four "Shrek" movies do look great in 1080p resolution, the first three movies in 1.85:1 ratios and the fourth movie in 2.35:1.
Everything about the colors, contrasts, definition, and detailing is as it should be. Even darker scenes display a good, clean inner detail. Object delineation is superb, and shadows are realistic, set apart by strong black levels. The animation, as I've said, is excellent (especially in the final installment, which is more minutely detailed than its predecessors), and the transfers do it justice, with hues that are always natural and never overbright; indeed, they are sometimes actually too low-key. Nevertheless, let's just say the movies are a pleasure to look at.
There is no serious reason to question the lossless Dolby TrueHD audio tracks, either, now remixed in 7.1 surround. The front-channel stereo spread is wide, and the surrounds fill in some needed environmental noises with ease, adding a pleasant ambient bloom for the musical track. Dialogue is particularly clean, clear, and smooth in TrueHD, so you won't have any trouble understanding what anyone is saying, and every once in a while you hear a solid bass rumble or a sonic effect with a strong dynamic impact. Overall, the sound, even in number four, is not quite as spectacular as in some action movies, but it's pleasant enough just the same. As for the 7.1 mix, I'm not sure it's better than the simulated 7.1 some of us use, but it works well all the same.
Each of the "Shrek" movies contains its own complement of extras, all of them having two exclusive Blu-ray items in common: "The Animator's Corner," picture-in-picture affairs that use storyboards, deleted-scene pitches, and technical goofs to get the viewer behind the filmmaking process; and "Shrek's Interactive Journey I-IV," where you can access various locations on a map and learn more about them and how the filmmakers created them. In addition to those items, the discs contain between eighteen and twenty scene selections each; bookmarks; a couple of previews at start-up; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired. All four discs come housed in separate Blu-ray cases, the discs further housed in a sturdy cardboard box, lavishly decorated and embossed.
The original "Shrek" disc contains several featurettes in high def. First is "Spotlight on Donkey," over eleven minutes on Donkey through the first three films. Next is "Secrets of Shrek," four minutes on the movie's fairy-tale references. Then there are three deleted scenes in storyboard form; a feature-length commentary with directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson and producer Aron Warner; and previews of other DreamWorks films and games. Finally, there is a music section that includes "Shrek in the Swamp," "Best Years of Our Lives," "I'm a Believer," "What's Up Duloc?," and a DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox.
On "Shrek 2" we find "Spotlight on Puss in Boots" (HD), about ten minutes on the cat who first appears in "Shrek 2," followed by "Secrets of Shrek 2" (HD), about four minutes on the voice cast and more fairy-tale references. Then there are two feature-length audio commentaries, one of directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon and the other by producer Aron Warner and editor Michael Andrews. After that, there's a cute bit called "Far, Far Away Idol," a parody of "American Idol," complete with viewer voting; and previews of other DreamWorks films and games. Finally, there is a music section that includes "Accidentally in Love," "These Boots Are Made for Walking," "I Know It's Today," and a DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox.
For "Shrek the Third," we get "Spotlight on Fiona" (HD), about ten minutes on the character throughout the four movies; "Secrets of Shrek the Third" (HD), four minutes on the voice cast and the detail references you may have missed; four deleted scenes (HD) in storyboard form, totaling about twenty-six minutes; "How to Be Green" (HD), four minutes on being friendly to the environment; and "Worcestershire Academy Yearbook," an interactive book about the movie's characters. Then, there are previews of other DreamWorks films and games, plus a music section that includes "Donkey Dance," "Freak Flag," and a DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox.
Finally, on "Shrek Forever After," we get even more bonuses than on the first three discs, again with most of them in high def. Of course, these are in addition again to "The Animator's Corner" and "Shrek's Interactive Journey." The first of the extras is "Spotlight on Shrek," almost fourteen minutes on Shrek through the four movies. Next, there's "Secrets of Shrek Forever After," four minutes on the voice talent and the things you may have missed in the movie. Then, there are three deleted scenes totaling about six minutes, the first one in completed form and the other two in storyboard form. After that is a filmmakers' commentary by director Mike Mitchell, head of story Walt Dohrn, and producers Gina Shay and Teresa Cheng. Following that is "A Conversation with the Cast," wherein most of the voice cast participate in a roundtable discussion on stage and look back over the past ten years of "Shrek" films; "The Tech of Shrek Forever After," seven minutes on the 3-D CGI effects the filmmakers used to create this newest product; and a music section with a segment on "Shrek the Musical" and the songs "Who'll I Be" and "Darling I Do."
After those features, we find "Shrek's Yule Log," about thirty minutes of looking at a fireplace while various of the "Shrek" characters wander in and make a remark or two; "Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular," five minutes of carols with the characters, with or without on-screen lyrics; "Deck the Swamp," with a "12 Days of Christmas" pop-up book, "Donkey's Decoration Scramble" game, and "Cookin' with Cookie"; and, finally, previews of other DreamWorks films and games.
Nothing in the world of fairy-tale cartoons appears to have been sacred to the animators of the "Shrek" films. Bluebirds of Happiness explode before our eyes, the characters blow up frogs and snakes up to make balloons, surprises abound around every corner, and not even sunsets and sunrises are immune to its gibes. If you apply a smidgen of open-mindedness, these are the kinds of cartoons that children, teens, and adults can all enjoy. The "Shrek" films should endure beyond the moment because they are different and daring; and, besides, it's reassuring to know that at least in these films, the main characters "lived ugly ever after."