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DreamWorks Animation Countdown 5: ‘Shrek’

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Shrek is both like every Disney animated movie you’ve seen and unlike every Disney animated movie you’ve ever seen. The film is very loosely based on a children’s book by William Steig, but it takes most of its storytelling cues from Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast, and it’s chock-full of cameos and references to those stories and so many others. Shrek is a fairy tale, but it’s also a spoof of a fairy tale because it plays on so many of tropes of that genre.

Speaking of tropes, it’s fascinating to see how many aspects of Shrek have influenced other animated films, from the tone and style of the comedy to the jam-packed soundtrack and contemporary musical number finale. (I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear “I’m a Believer” and not think of Shrek. It’s pretty much impossible.)

The cast of Shrek is one of the greatest ensemble casts, if not the greatest ensemble cast, of any animated film I’ve ever seen. If it weren’t for the talent of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy, I don’t think the film, nor its sequels for that matter, would resonate with audiences so much — and while you could argue that the cast is one of the only redeeming qualities of some of the sequels, the same really couldn’t be said for the first film, which succeeds on multiple levels. It’s original, well-paced, and packed with humor, action, and emotion.

The animation in Shrek was, for its time, groundbreaking — sure, Pixar had already cornered the market on CG animation by this time, and DreamWorks Animation had already dipped its toe into those waters with Antz, but I think DreamWorks Animation did something different, and nothing short of remarkable, with Shrek. The style of animation is more realistic, and while it’s still appropriate for children, the humor is more cynical and mature than, say, Toy Story. It may not have been DreamWorks Animation’s first film, but Shrek is definitely the film that solidified the studio as a competitive force in animation, particularly CG animation. It paved the way for the future of the studio and for the medium of animation itself.

Sixteen years later, Shrek holds up incredibly well. Sure, the animation isn’t on the level of what we’re used to seeing now, but it’s by no means something that would distract from your enjoyment of the film. The franchise may have lost some steam (and good grace) as it went on, but taken on its own Shrek remains a fantastic film and a strong second entry into the realm of CG animation for DreamWorks Animation.

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Angelo Thomas

Angelo Thomas is a student, a filmmaker, and an advocate for eating disorder recovery and awareness, among other things. It's his goal for everything he makes or has a hand in to be something he finds genuinely exciting and engaging and to have some level of meaning and ambition, whether it's a short narrative film, an LGBTQ+ documentary, or even a Taylor Swift music video —​ because that's how the magic happens.