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[whitespace] 'Shrek'
That's How the Cookie Crumbles: Lord Farquaad puts the pressure on in 'Shrek.'

Mouse Meat

Animated 'Shrek' exposes the mouse and his methods

By Richard von Busack

IN A PRESENTATION on an upcoming Disney cartoon, one of the head animators was describing the process of creating the male lead. First, he said, he'd started with silent comedian Harold Lloyd as a model for his drawings. Then he'd add details of Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper and Fred MacMurray. "In other words," whispered a friend, "he took someone original and watered him down until it fit the Disney house style."

Right away the crotchety ogre Shrek in the new animated film of the same name shows what he thinks of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty: the green-skinned, homely hero uses a leaf from a too-pretty book of fairy tales as toilet paper. Shrek is enjoying his solitude in the muck when social upheaval forces him out of his peaceful home and into an encounter with the local ruler, Lord Farquaad.

The dwarfish noble (voiced by John Lithgow) sports the fancy black Fauntleroy curls Olivier wore as Richard III. He has Mussolini's nasty squint and steam-shovel jaw. Farquaad has ethnically cleansed his realm of all fairy-tale creatures--Pinocchio, the fairy godmothers, the three little pigs and the three bears--to "a designated resettlement facility" somewhere in the swamps.

Unfortunately, his kingly ambitions can't be met until he marries. His adviser, the Magic Mirror, trying to outwit Farquaad, suggests a most inaccessible princess bride, Fiona (Cameron Diaz). She's guarded by a dragon in a castle surrounded by a moat of fire. When Shrek comes to complain to Farquaad about the annoying refugee camp in his marsh, the lord turns the blunt, simple ogre around, making him go fetch the princess in exchange for a deed to his swamp.

Mike Myers does the voice for Shrek--a light Scottish accent that never veers into one of his typical comic caricatures. Shrek's escort is a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) named, with the film's typical lack of regard for cuteness, simply "Donkey"; the doglike beast is a nervous chatterbox.

The spell cast on Fiona is easily guessed, but it's the pleasurable anticipation that makes the film work. For once, here's a cartoon with what seems like the right amount of violence, the right amount of romance.

The real skill of Shrek can be seen in the human features, subtle in their reactions, the unobtrusive yet flowing movement of figures seen in a crowd, the unexpected luxury of cartoon characters with five fingers on their hands. Shrek's prettiness is always slightly somber. There's satisfying visual depth in this film that insists appearances are deceptive. The lushness of the greenery makes the obscene tower of Lord Farquaad all the more an abomination.

Farquaad's castle is clearly Disneyland, with tourist attractions around its base, a distressing, hectoring "It's a Small World" puppet show and mazes of velvet-rope barricades. Thus Shrek satirizes how the Disney organization barreled over the terrain of fairy tales--all of the abuses of enchantment. Shrek succeeds on so many levels, but it's especially successful in setting this enchanted world free.

Shrek (PG; 85 min.), directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, written by William Steig and starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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Web extra to the May 17-23, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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