Watching animated flicks as a kid, there was a single motto that I lived by - If it isn't Disney, it isn't worth my time. Of course, that was when Disney had been producing such classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. The films that followed were a different story. Bland and boring, they left me to feel somewhat disenchanted. The 'code' I lived much of my life by had failed me, and I was forced to begin looking elsewhere for my fill of adventurous, animated fun. Just as I was ready to jump ship however, Disney and Pixar teamed up and started delivering the goods, this time in computer animated form. Once again I found myself clinging to the 'code', thinking that Disney was indeed the only company that could produce quality family entertainment. Yet in 2001, DreamWorks ended up freeing me from my closed-minded stipulation with Shrek, as it was the first film that seemed like a serious enough contender to allow a company to say, "See? We can compete with Disney and Pixar." Ever since, the green ogre has won the hearts of children and adults alike everywhere, and with three sequels, two televised holiday specials, and even a Puss in Boots spinoff making its way to theaters in 2011, to say that DreamWorks considers this franchise to be very important to them would be a bit of an understatement. Hell, they've even made the big green guy their company mascot! Now that Shrek - The Whole Story has finally made its way to Blu-ray, there's really only one question that's left to be answered - Did they give their most successful property the treatment it deserved on its high-def format debut?
Set in a world where every fairy tale character ever imagined dwells, a green ogre by the name of Shrek lives a comfortable life of solitude. His home resides in a swamp that rests in the middle of the forest, a location that's completely undesirable for anyone but an ogre. So, he typically doesn't have to worry about people butting into his business... unless of course an angry pitchfork mob has a beef they need to settle with him. However, the evil Lord Farquaad is about to put a serious damper on Shrek's lifestyle, as he's ordered all of the fairy tale characters across the land to be gathered up like outcast citizens, and dumped in the swamp. Of course, Shrek has a huge problem with this, as his swamp isn't meant to be the final stop to exile... it's his home. So, the ogre prepares to head to Farquaad's palace to ask if there's somewhere else the fairy tale characters can be shipped off to. Much to his dismay, Shrek can't even handle this task by his lonesome, as he acquires the obnoxious Donkey as a traveling companion. Upon arriving to Farquaad's palace, things get a bit more complicated than Shrek ever could have anticipated. Lord Farquaad is on a quest to become King, a prize that will only come to fruition if he marries a princess. So, Farquaad has decided to secure Princess Fiona, a damsel in distress who's been guarded in a tower by a ferocious dragon for half her life. Too small and cowardly to rescue her himself however, Farquaad sends Shrek in his place, with the promise of restoring the swamp to its once peaceful state, of course. As with any fairy tale however, there's danger lurking around every corner, and a startling revelation about Princess Fiona will undoubtedly change Shrek's life forever.
Shrek was a breath of fresh air the first time I saw it in theaters. Not only did it have all of the fun and adventure I typically would have expected from a Disney film, but it went above and beyond with a charming sense of humor that everyone could appreciate on numerous levels. Take for example the entire cast of fairy tale characters. They all have a unique comical twist to their appearance and personalities, in a way that's never been realized before - Pinocchio is a nervous, squeaky voiced wreck, the face inside the magic mirror acts out like a game show host, and the gingerbread man is literally a tough little cookie. These significant tweaks to the characters make even the smallest fairy tale cameo as memorable as the main character himself.
But, the most important reason why Shrek has been able to entertain both children and adults alike for nearly a decade? It's because the humor contained on every page of the film's script is masterfully written. The story itself is simplistic as they come, sure, but the jokes are able to strike the funny bone in each age group a different way. There are plenty of one-liners in Shrek that have innuendos only an adult would understand, but surprisingly, all of these jokes are so tastefully written, that parents will never feel like they have to cup their hands over their children's ears. Ultimately, the kids get a laugh out of the jokes on a basic level, and adults howl every time they hear an 'age appropriate only' line the kids are oblivious to. But of course, Shrek wouldn't have been such a breakthrough hit for DreamWorks if it wasn't for the cast. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz all provide vocal performances that are, in my opinion, much more memorable than anything either of them have done since (with the exception of the other Shrek films, of course).
It's for all these reasons and more that I believe Shrek is a nearly flawless film with little, if anything, to complain about. Sure, you could complain that the animation itself isn't as pristine as what we're used to seeing nowadays, but remember, even the original Toy Story had simplistic animation to start with. No, it's the substance to the film that matters most, and there's certainly plenty for every member of the audience to appreciate - The creativity behind bringing the land of Far Far Away to life, the smart writing, excellent cast, humor, all backed with the dusting of a love story throughout - It isn't hard to see why Shrek instantly earned its place amongst the ranks as a classic. But, could DreamWorks replicate these magical elements in unison for another entry?
Shrek may have preferred living life on his own terms once, but he's now happily married, ogre to ogre, with the one he shared true love's kiss with - Fiona. But just as things are looking up in Shrek's life, he receives information that has the potential to drive the ogre to the brink of madness - His in-laws, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, want to meet him. Not only do they want to meet him, but they want to throw a ball to honor their daughter's recent marriage, an event that Shrek is less than willing to participate in. Fiona bats her eyes and talks him into it however, so they set off with their pal Donkey to visit the royal family. Their arrival is met with mixed emotions however. The King and Queen are shocked to learn that Fiona married an ogre, and they're even more stunned to learn that she, too, is an ogre. But, they're not the only ones that are taken aback by this development. Fiona's Fairy Godmother made a deal with the royal parents - If her son, Prince Charming, were to rescue Fiona from the tower, he would be promised her hand in marriage. Charming had made his dangerous quest to the top of the castle, with hopes that he would marry into the royal family and one day become King... but all he found atop the tower was a wolf in drag. The Fairy Godmother and Charming accost the King until he agrees to 'rectify' the situation, and in order to do so, hires an assassin known as Puss in Boots to make Shrek disappear. If Shrek is going to live happily ever after, he's going to have to make it past Puss and Charming, all while fighting for the love of his bride.
Shrek 2 has much in common with its predecessor. On paper, the plot is still as generic as it gets, but again, it's the execution of it all that matters most. All of the elements that made the first flick such a hit are still intact, and better yet, the main characters are more refined and better realized than before. But don't misinterpret what I'm saying - Shrek 2 isn't a better film than the original, nor is it any worse. When comparing the two films, it's probably just best to say that they're different. Part of the fun of the first Shrek was discovering the land of Far Far Away, as well as all of its inhabitants. This automatically puts the second flick at a disadvantage, as that flame of discovery had already extinguished itself by the time the end credits rolled for Shrek's first adventure. Although use of the word 'sequel' is usually synonymous with 'the same old crap but in a different bag', Shrek 2 couldn't merely rely on being a rehash of its successor. The story had to continue with a natural flow - As an audience, we had to believe in Shrek and Fiona as a couple that's been happily wed, but it was also necessary to see their relationship put to the test. After all, Shrek is a short-tempered ogre that lived for nothing more than peace and quiet. Fiona spent half her life dreaming of Prince Charming while locked away in a tower. You do the math. Fortunately, everyone involved in the production of this film succeeded at driving these points home, making Shrek 2 just as enjoyable as the film that started it all.
If there's any complaints I have about the film, it's that the whole 'new husband doesn't get along with the in-laws' thing felt a little forced. Meet the Parents was a big success just four years prior to this film's release, and Meet the Fockers would hit the big screen the same year that Shrek 2 did. To me, it seems like DreamWorks was trying to capitalize on the popularity of these films since Shrek and Fiona were an item. Fortunately for them, such an idea worked well with the plot and never came close to bordering on parody.
Other than that minor quibble, Shrek 2 is a fantastic follow-up to a fantastic film. Despite the fact that the third time doesn't usually equal a charm in Hollywood though, instead of quitting while they were ahead, DreamWorks decided to move full steam ahead on yet another Shrek film.
Shrek the Third
Harold, King of Far Far Away and Fiona's father, is on his deathbed. Of course, Shrek and Fiona are next in line to be King and Queen, and the big green guy isn't havin' it. All he wants to do is go home to his swamp and enjoy a life of wedded bliss. Since Shrek is so adamant that an ogre would be a horrible King, Harold reveals that there is indeed another heir to the throne - his nephew, Arthur. With this wonderful news in mind, Shrek sails off on a ship with his good friend Donkey to find Harold's nephew, and deliver the news that he is to be King of Far Far Away. Meanwhile, Prince Charming is still fuming that an ogre of all things, ended up being the rightful heir to the throne. In Charming's mind, what's rightfully his has been stripped away from him, and he's not going to just stand by and watch it happen any longer. He enlists the help of every villain known in fairy tale lore to kill the ogre, and take back the kingdom of Far Far Away. This isn't a good predicament for the green guy to be in, or a fair one for that matter. After all, he wants nothing to do with being King. But, it doesn't matter if things go down for better or worse. Shrek's life is going to change dramatically no matter what the outcome... because Fiona also happens to drop the bomb that she's pregnant.
There's no question that Shrek the Third is the weakest of the bunch. To me, it seems like the writers were grasping at straws for ideas this time around. Half of the movie focuses on Shrek's journey to nab Harold's 16 year old nephew and make him King, an idea that doesn't instill nearly as much fun and excitement as the previous films, and the other half dredges up Prince Charming again so he can provide us with a revenge plot. Whereas the first two films were creative and fun, Shrek the Third comes off as a lazy attempt at milking a franchise dry. I know that DreamWorks had a great deal of success with the first two films (and to be fair, they did quite well with this film as well), but I rather would have waited another year or two for them to find a story worth telling. That being said, there are still plenty of comical moments throughout that save this flick from being a complete bore, but it's unfortunate that the story couldn't fit in these gags with the same effortless flow as before.
Disappointed in the third offering, I couldn't help but roll my eyes when I found out that yet another Shrek film was in the works...
Shrek Forever After
Shrek is having a hard time adjusting to his new life as a family man. He used to be able to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Now, life is all about adhering to a strict schedule - Wake up, feed the kids, change some diapers, have Donkey and his kids show up for a play date, fix up things around the hut, have dinner, read a story, put the wee ogres to bed, and then start all over again the next day. Shrek literally has no time to himself anymore. Enjoying eyeball martinis and taking filthy mud baths are a thing of the past, and our green ogre friend is beginning to feel like he's not even an ogre anymore. However, when Shrek runs into Rumpelstiltskin, a merchant who deals in magical contracts, he's given the opportunity to have his old life back for 24 hours. Being out on his own without Donkey yammering at his side, chasing and scaring the crap out of villagers - How could he resist? And all Shrek has to give in return? Just a measly 24 hours from the life he's already lived. Rumpelstiltskin suggests a day when he was a baby, a day that he wouldn't miss. "Take them all for all I care!" And with that, Shrek signs the contract and begins to terrorize his way through Far Far Away, just like in the good ole' days. What our green friend doesn't realize of course, is that his meeting with Rumpelstiltskin wasn't mere coincidence. No, that little trickster once tried to have Fiona's parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, sign over their kingdom with the promise that Fiona would be rescued from the tower. Shrek had gotten to Fiona first however, and Rumpel has been looking for another way to obtain the kingdom ever since. As a result of Shrek's ignorance, he now finds himself in a world where nobody knows who he is, including his bride Fiona. Realizing what he had now that it's gone, Shrek understands the only way to break the contract is to share true love's kiss with Fiona again... but that might be difficult to obtain within 24 hours, and if Shrek can't get the job done in 24 hours, he'll disappear.
Although I had expected the worst from the final installment, Shrek Forever After is actually a fitting end for the series. The strength of the franchise up to this point has always been the comedy, but Forever After stops trying to find an excuse to yuck it up every few minutes, instead focusing on themes of love, and not taking the people you love for granted. Now, I know some of you probably wanted the final Shrek film to be a return to form, but personally, I believe the substance provided by the plot this time around is so much more than I could have hoped for. DreamWorks attempted to make an emotional film this time around as opposed to a gut-busting hilarious one, and it man did it pay off big-time. I'm a family man myself, and with an 8 month old boy at home, I was able to relate to repeating the same monotonous schedule over and over again, day after day. But when Shrek's world was turned upside down to the point where his wife didn't even recognize him, where his children no longer existed? My heartstrings were being pulled from beginning to end. I really felt for the big lug, and this was the kind of connection I wanted out of Shrek the Third. This was the story worth telling. Effectively being able to connect the audience to the story makes the danger seem more real, and the love more sincere. And speaking of the 'genuine' danger this time around, Rumpelstiltskin is the most diabolical villain of the franchise to date.
But, is Shrek Forever After the best film in the series? I guess it all depends on what qualities are most important to you when watching a film. For my money, it is the better film out of the four, but when it comes to having fun and sheer replay value, the first Shrek still reigns supreme.
The first three Shrek films are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, while Shrek Forever After sports a more theatrical 2.35:1 ratio. In 1080p, all four films included in this set look quite impressive, thanks to their utilization of the AVC codec.
There's not really all that much to say about the quality on this release - As expected, each installment to the franchise looks better than the last. The first Shrek is the weakest looking title of the bunch, but that's not to say there's something wrong with the transfer. Being that this film was released nearly a decade ago, the computer animation didn't have the same 'wow' factor that it has today. Characters and landscapes weren't very detailed, and everything that moved looked a little stiff. So it's for this reason, by default, that Shrek just doesn't impress as much as the later films. But considering how the source looked, this is the Blu-ray that I've been waiting some time for. Edges are sharp, color saturation is what you'd expect for a colorful film such as this, contrast/black levels are wonderful, and all the detail that the source provides is reproduced with stunning clarity. The only minor issue is a little banding, but even that's so minimal it's hardly worth even mentioning. If there was only one other complaint I could make, is that Shrek looks digital... but again, I doubt that's a result of the encode itself.
As we progress through the series, the animation becomes more stunning, the banding becomes even less of an issue than it was, and the video quality begins looking less digital and more natural. By the time we get to Shrek Forever After, we're looking at reference quality all the way around. Yes folks, it's time away to throw away those old Shrek DVD's, or perhaps even your HD-DVD/Blu-ray of Shrek the Third, because this is the treatment we've wanted for the series all along.
Each film is presented with Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround sound, and to say the results are impressive would be a bit of an understatement. I expected the series to sound pretty darn good, but my expectations were surpassed every step of the way. All four flicks provide an impressive amount of depth and clarity, and the 7.1 setup does a terrific job at providing pinpoint precise directional audio. Dialogue is never hard to hear over any of the action, the scenes that use popular rock songs are loud and never begin to sound 'muddy' no matter how loud you crank the volume, and there's some decent LFE when a scene calls for it. Of course, much like the video quality, the further we get in the series, the better the source has been mixed. Unsurprisingly, Shrek Forever After is the most impressive disc out of the bunch, providing reference quality audio that the entire family will have fun listening to.
First, it's worth noting the packaging. The box that houses this set is sturdy as can be. The thickness and strength of the cardboard can actually be compared to the recent Alien Anthology Blu-ray release. Inside the box are four, full-sized Blu-ray cases, one for each film. So for those of you that can't stand the thin cases, you're in luck. There's only one disc in each of the four cases, so unfortunately, there are no DVD or digital copies contained within. Personally, I'm a fan of this setup. Although I appreciate DVD and digital copies, I hardly ever use them, so I won't exactly be missing them now. The only thing I would have done differently would have been to make the Blu-ray cases green instead of the standard blue. If the Grinch can do it, why not Shrek?
Blu-ray Exclusives - This menu can be found under 'Extras' on each of the Shrek films. All four releases include:
The Animators' Corner - If you're not into listening to audio commentary tracks, then you're really going to enjoy this supplement. This is a Picture-in-Picture feature that plays throughout the film. You'll see storyboards, the computer animation in its early stages, behind-the-scenes recording sessions, cast and crew interviews, and much, much more. By the time you've finished each film with this 'video-as-behind the scenes and commentary' package, you're going to know the production of the entire franchise inside and out. The Animator's Corner simply put, is not to be missed.
Shrek's Interactive Journey (I-IV) - When first 'entering' this supplement, you'll be brought to an interactive map of the locations that appear throughout each film. You'll have a multitude of locations to choose from, and each selection hosts a variety of the original artwork that eventually shaped the land of Far Far Away, and beyond, as we know it.
Other Features Included on All Four Discs (Not Located in the Blu-ray Exclusives Tab)
Secrets of Shrek - Included on each disc under the 'Special Features' Extras menu, if there's any of the fun trivial stuff that you missed out on while watching any of these films, these featurettes are going to fill you in. You'll hear about what specific pop-culture references were utilized in the films, in-depth information on just how many fairy tales made some sort of an appearance throughout the franchise, some fun factoids about bringing the world of Far Far Away to life. Also, if you didn't get enough of watching the cast do their thing in the recording studio during The Animators' Corner, you'll see some more of that here, as well. If you're looking to arm yourself with as much trivial knowledge about the series as possible, you're not going to want to skip these featurettes.
Spot on Donkey/Puss in Boots/Fiona/Shrek - These supplements are pretty much what you'd expect. Everything about these particular characters is on display here, including an in-depth look at the actors and how they brought their character to life behind the mic, how their characters evolved throughout the franchise in its entirety, and more.
DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox - With this, you can see music videos from the likes of Shrek, Over the Hedge, Madagascar, Bee Movie, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon. Good for the kiddies, but most adult audience members are probably going to want to skip this.
Supplements on Shrek
Deleted Scenes - There are three deleted scenes available on this disc: Fiona's Prologue, The Deal, and Fiona Gets Them Lost.
Filmmakers' Commentary - Directors Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson, and Producer Aron Warner - A lot of the information that's on this commentary can be seen and heard about in The Animators' Corner, so if you're not exactly the kind of person that likes to sit around and listen to commentaries, then it's safe for you to skip this track. For the rest of you however, this is an interesting track, through and through. The people behind the mic here obviously love the work they did while working on Shrek, and it shows. Everyone has plenty to say about every aspect of the film's production, the discussion never gets technically dry enough to induce yawning, and there's even a little more perspective to be found that wasn't seen in The Animators' Corner. If you have the time, give this track a whirl.
Also, under the Shrek, Rattle & Roll Extras menu, you'll find the Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party (a short piece that has all of the fairy tale characters singing a bunch of popular songs), music videos for Baha Men - "Best Years of Our Lives" and Smash Mouth - "I'm a Believer", as well a number from Shrek the Musical - "What's Up Duloc?"
Supplements on Shrek 2
Commentary with Directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon & Commentary with Producer Aron Warner and Editor Michael Andrews - Both of these tracks provide an interesting look at the film. The commentary featuring Directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon covers pretty much every aspect about the production of the film, and just like the commentary offered with the first film, there's a lot of information that's already been covered with the Picture-in-Picture track, but there's also a little extra that's worth listening to. Producer Aron Warner and Editor Michael Andrews surprisingly doesn't cover much of the same ground as the Directors, offering not so much insight on the film's production, but how all the ideas came together to produce the final package that hit theaters. If you only have enough time to check out one of these tracks, I'd recommend the one with the Producer and Editor. The Directors have a little more fun behind the mic, but learning about how the ideas for this film were conceived is invaluable.
Far Far Away Idol - An animated Simon Cowell vistis the land of Far Far Away to judge, that's right, 'Far Far Away Idol'. This is a pretty entertaining short (close to 6 minutes in length) that provides quite a few laughs. Honestly though, I'm surprised they didn't opt for a 'Hell's Kitchen' parody, considering how often Gordon Ramsay calls his subordinates 'donkeys'. Don't skip this one!
Also available are music videos for the Counting Crows - "Accidentally In Love", Puss in Boots - "These Boots Are Made For Walking", and another selection from Shrek the Musical - "I Know It's Today".
Supplements on Shrek the Third
Deleted Scenes - Deleted scenes return once again after missing out on Shrek 2. This time we're treated to four: The Fauxly Grail, Hot Lunch, Cyrano De Artie, and Doppelgangers.
How to Be Green - This featurette is about how you, yes you, can be 'green' by keeping our planet clean! Please, keep the preachy stuff to yourself, guys...
Worcestershire Academy Yearbook - This interactive featurette allows us to get a better understanding for Arthur, as well as some of his classmates.
Also included is the Donkey Dance short, and another video for Shrek the Musical - "Freak Flag". Unfortunately, no commentary appears on this disc.
Supplements on Shrek Forever After
Deleted Scenes - Three deleted scenes make the rounds this time: Fairy-tale Creatures Attack, Gingy Attack (test), and Emperor No Clothes (test).
Commentary by Director Mike Mitchell, Head of Story Walt Dohrn, and Producers Gina Shay and Teresa Cheng - This is probably the most 'fun' track across all four discs, which isn't that surprising considering this film was in development not all that long ago, and everything is still fresh in everyone's mind. As been par for the course thus far, there's some information that doesn't overlap with the Picture-in-Picture feature, but again, if you're not an audio commentary fan, you're not missing much by skipping this over The Animators' Corner.
Conversation with the Cast - The main cast discuss the franchise and its thematically driven concepts. This is really the first time outside of a behind the scenes look that we get to hear the actors speak candidly about their thoughts about the franchise as a whole. Not to be missed.
The Tech of Shrek Forever After - This is a brief overview of how computer animated films are made. At only 7 ½ minutes in length however, this really only scratches the surface.
Shrek the Musical - Under this option under 'Shrek, Rattle & Roll' in the Special Features menu, is From Swamp to Stage: The Making of Shrek the Musical, as well as a video for the tune, "Who I'd Be".
There's also a music video for "Darling I Do".
Shrek's Yule Log - This is literally a half an hour of staring at Shrek's fireplace during the holidays. Every once in a while, a fairy tale character will make a brief appearance, but I can't think of a single person that will actually have this looping on their television while they have guests over this holiday season.
Donkey's Caroling Christmas-Tacular - This 'Christmas-Tacular' is just a bunch of the characters singing some Christmas songs. This is pretty similar to the Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Party supplement found with the first film.
Deck the Swamp - There are actually 3 features included here: 12 Days of Christmas Pop-Up Book has Shrek reading his own version of the classic tale, as we watch each page of the fun pop-up book come alive. Donkey's Decoration Scramble is an interactive game for the kids to help repair Christmas ornaments, and Cookin' with Cookie features the Ogre chef featured in this film providing some his favorite recipes.
Is this the treatment that the franchise in its entirety deserved for its high-def debut? Absolutely. All four films have never looked our sounded better, and each disc serves up a good amount of fascinating supplements. The only unfortunate thing with Shrek - The Whole Story, is that it's not really the whole story. Missing from this boxed set are the Christmas and Halloween holiday specials, as well as Shrek 3-D. Perhaps these are all just meant to be fun side projects and shouldn't be considered canon to the film series itself, but there are a lot of people who fell in love with such specials (especially Shrek the Halls), and will sorely miss them when they realize they're not part of the 'whole story' package. Other than that, this really is a fantastic set. Not only is all the content across each disc (both film and extras alike) entertaining, but the price is reasonable to boot. So what are you waiting for? I highly recommend you ditch those old DVD's, or perhaps even your HD-DVD or Blu-ray of Shrek the Third, and pick this set up immediately.