"Shrek" is one of those animated films that has left a large impression on the animation industry and pop culture in general that talking about it kind of feels redundant. When it was released by DreamWorks in 2001, it established them as a force to be reckoned with, and the film they made based on a book by William Steig while taking shots at Disney went on to become a phenomenon and left a huge legacy which included the first film to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even a place in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry, and it's a film that well deserves it too. I do think the film is still a great one regardless and still has hilarious moments and witty charm that still make it a fun watch almost twenty years later.
In a fairy tale kingdom, an ogre named Shrek (Mike Meyers) has been living a happy life alone in a swamp being disgusting as ogres are, and also scaring away the villagers who try to claim a reward off him. One day though, a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) shows up who isn't afraid of him, and soon after tons of fairy tale characters arrive at the swamp after being banished from their homes by the ruler of Duloc, Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Wanting the fairy tale creatures away from his swamp, Shrek sets off with Donkey to Duloc where Farquaad gives him a quest to rescue the fair maiden Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a locked away tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon so he can marry her to become king and in return, he'll remove the fairy tale creatures from his swamp. From there, Shrek and Donkey set off to rescue Fiona from the tower unaware that she has a deep secret.
As I stated before, this is one of those films that has really made an impact in the film landscape and pop culture that reviewing it might be a bit redundant, but I'm gonna do my best to do so. Watching the film twenty years later, I was glad to discover that it held up very well despite the troubled and somewhat crazy production it had which included the film also being made in motion capture as well as the vast amount of animated copycats that came after it came out. I think the story is easily the big highlight of the film as it has a snarky sense of humor while also still having an underlying sweetness and charm to it that really makes it appealing. The film does do a lot to poke fun at the fairy tale tropes prevalent in films from Disney like the opening storytelling book and even a princess at one point singing to a bird but puts a spin on it with its witty and hilarious humor. For example, in the scene where Fiona sings to a bluebird, she ends up singing so loudly she makes it inflate and pop like a balloon and then cooks the bird's eggs for breakfast. It's such hilarious humor and it really leads to some funny hilarious moments from the whole sequence where Shrek rescues Fiona from the tower and the dragon ends up falling in love with Donkey as well as the scene where Robin Hood and his merry men attempt to save Fiona from Shrek, but Fiona ends up saving Shrek instead after getting annoyed with "Mousier Hood" as he calls himself. Though despite all the snarky humor and pokes at Disney throughout the film, I do love that it still does play out and stay almost true to a typical fairy tale film and has a lot of soft and tender scenes, particularly one where Donkey and Shrek talk by a campfire and Shrek vents his frustration about being judged by people for being an ogre and feeling he's better of alone and Donkey comforting him. It's a great message for children and adults and one that stands tall all these years later. As for the animation, it's also held up particularly well for the most part. The film is really impressive for its human character animation, especially for the time considering how humans are incredibly hard to animate on the computer. It's exceptionally impressive and I love the small details they have with five o clock shadows and the different hair varieties the characters have. I also really admire the landscapes of the film like Duloc looking like a parody of Disneyland and Shrek's swamp having incredible lighting patterns coming from the trees and moss floating in the water. It all looks visually spectacular and I think the lighting is also incredibly impressive especially with the golden sunrises and sunsets the film offers. It really does look spectacular. I do think the only thing that hasn't aged the best are some of the characters in crowded shots as they do come off slightly off-putting at times, but it's nothing too distracting. Then there are the characters of the film which are easily the best part of the film. Shrek is an enduring protagonist that despite his gross appeal and trying to appear frightening is very lovable and kind while also having a snarky side to him. Mike Meyers really gave this character such a lovable charm that really made him endearing and iconic all these years later. I also thought Donkey was incredibly hilarious that played to Eddie Murphy's strengths without him coming off as annoying. Despite him yapping and talking constantly sometimes about the most random things, he's still a great friend willing to stick up for people and doesn't judge others. Even Fiona is great as she's not a stick in the mud damsel in distress and perfect princess due to her standing up for others and also being somewhat just as disgusting as Shrek and the relationship the two have felt genuine and believable. I also thought the other fairy tale creatures had some funny moments too with the gingerbread man Gingy having a hilarious scene with Farquaad regarding the muffin man. Speaking of Farquaad, I will say that he's sadly the weakest character in the film and not that strong of a villain despite John Lithgow's funny performance. He mostly just gloats and lets his henchmen do his dirty work for him and really didn't serve that much of a purpose in the film. I don't think he's a terrible villain, but I do think his character should've been a bit better.
Overall, "Shrek" is still a hilarious animated film all these years later. The story is snarky and hilarious while also being heartwarming and sweet, the animation is still great with groundbreaking human character animation, and the characters are all mostly fantastic and still work all these years later. This is certainly a great animated film that I think works well amongst DreamWorks catalog all these years later. It's a film with a lot of great layers underneath and that's why I think it still holds up.