There's nothing like a heavy dose of self-awareness to turn the simplest, purest pleasures of pop culture into smarm. A rather late victim of the reflexivity plague, the fairy tale genre is given a pseudo-postmodern colostomy by the oafish Shrek.
When Scream did it to horror, for years afterwards it became acceptable to resort to cheeky storytelling sloth by flattering the audience on their recognition of tangential pop culture references. But the self-conscious coyness doesn't suit fantasy well--Shrek winks and nudges enough, but its introspection goes nowhere, and the unadulterated joy of a fairy tale is lost in the process.
For a movie "about" fairy tales, Shrek doesn't know the formula. With a talented cast of voices (including Mike Myers as the title character and Eddie Murphy once again as a mugging jackass) and astoundingly expressive computer-generated imagery, somewhere along the scraggly plot line it ditches the fantasy-adventure thing and turns into a Sandra Bullock-style romantic comedy.
Forgetting that its target kids care more about bodily fluids (of which the movie has plenty) than true love, Shrek brings one underlying Disney fairy tale theme to light--however unintentionally.
"True love" in a Disney film is generally reserved exclusively for the beautiful, while their affable and beauty-deprived supporting cast watches on approvingly. Shrek's parting message, however, flips this around and teaches its audience that ugly, loutish and poor people too can find true love--as long as there are other equally hideous creatures out there in the world.
--By Greg Bloom