Every time I review a box set of movies I hesitate just a little bit. Do I review the series as a whole? Or do I review each movie separately? With the 'Rocky' collection I felt that reviewing the films as a whole was the best approach. All six of those films fit well together and represent much of my childhood growing up. I related with the 'Rocky' films and so I thought it was better to give my impressions of the entire collection.
'Shrek' on the other hand seems to me to be a different story. Even though each 'Shrek' keeps the same characters, each one of them seems a little disjointed and thrown together without thought of the previous films. Sure, they carry over storylines, but each film stands well on its own. I think capsule reviews for each of 'Shrek's four films is the best way to review this monstrous set.
My wife made an observation after we were done watching 'Shrek.' She asked "Was 'Shrek' the first time computer animation took on more adult themes, jokes, and references?" I thought about that for a moment and then decided the answer was yes. 'Shrek' came to theaters in 2001 right on the heels of 'Toy Story 2,' which was released in 1999. We'd already had two 'Toy Story' films and 'A Bug's Life.' Dreamworks' first foray into computer animation was 'Antz,' which was critically acclaimed, but didn't create a franchise for them. They needed a hit, and 'Shrek' was it. With the computer animated films before 'Shrek,' yes, even 'Toy Story,' films always seemed much more geared toward younger generations. 'Toy Story' 1 and 2 can certainly be enjoyed by adults, but it was 'Shrek' that actually dipped into the adult-based humor before many other people did. I still know parents that won't allow their kids to watch 'Shrek' because of its more adult feel. Shucks, they even use words like "damn" and "ass."
Kudos for 'Shrek' going with the risk of being ostracized because of its more adult nature. It paved the way for CG features to not only be kid-friendly, but parent-friendly too. Nowadays, we quite often see CG features that contain quite a bit more subtle humor that flies right over kid's heads, but lands perfectly with older generations (Example: ' Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ').
Enough with the history of 'Shrek.' The first 'Shrek' film was hilarious in its own right. An irreverent look into the world of fairy tales and popular folk stories. The world 'Shrek' lives in is populated with everyone from Pinocchio to the Three Blind Mice. This storybook world is one of the reasons why 'Shrek' excels so well. There's an endless number of jokes and gags that can be used with this material, and 'Shrek' emplys them perfectly.
Shrek (Mike Meyers) is an ogre who likes, and prefers, his swamp. That is until Lord Farquaad exciles all the fairy tale creatures to the swamp. In order to get his land back, Shrek must rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon-infested castle and bring her back so Lord Farquaad can marry her. He's joined along the way by a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) and various other storybook characters that all have their chance to shine – the Gingerbread Man's interrogation still makes me laugh like the first time I saw it.
I love the first 'Shrek.' Its pop-culture humor, and its old-school storybook references mesh perfectly together and they're still relevant even today. The movie has heart, but most importantly a funny bone. It's an infinitely rewatchable movie. Dare I say, it's getting close to becoming a modern day animated classic.
Three years later we got the second installment in the 'Shrek' franchise. With the first movie's heavy pop-culture references and jokes, 'Shrek 2' could have gotten pretty dumb, pretty fast. Instead Dreamworks took the high road and, like 'Toy Story 2,' was able to create as good of a movie as the first. This was surprising, because in my experience, sequels usually find themselves mired in a string of unfunny jokes, superfluous characters, and ridiculous plotlines. This usually happens if the sequel is rushed out the door in order to capitalize on the popularity of the first. It seems that the three year gap helped Dreamworks create another original tale that had just as much adult-oriented humor as the first.
This time Shrek and Fiona have married and Fiona's royal parents have invited them to their kingdom of Far Far Away for a celebration. Shrek isn't too fond on the idea of going. He's afraid their ogre-ness will scare her parents off. Shrek is tired of being discriminated against anyway, and wants to just sit back and relax in his swamp with his new ogre wife.
When Shrek and Fiona finally arrive at Far Far Away, they find themselves in a war with the king and queen. The king is angry that his little girl is an ogre, married an ogre, and will have ogre children. Shrek is angry because the king is angry. So, who better to help out the situation than a kind, loving Fairy Godmother, right? Wrong.
The aspect of 'Shrek 2' that I find the most appealing is the switching of roles the filmmakers have done with storybook constants like Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother. Here they are villains. What a nice change to the old stereotypical feelings we have about those characters.
It wouldn't be a sequel without the introduction of new characters, most prominently Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). 'Shrek 2' doesn't introduce too many more main characters so the introduction of Puss is hilarious and never feels like it overwhelms the characters we've come to know and love.
I love 'Shrek 2' as much as the first and find its action and humor exciting to watch. The end action scene, played out to the song "Holding Out for a Hero," is one of the very best sequences of the movie. Gotta love Mongo.
Like the first one, I could watch this second installment over and over and never tire of it. It's fun for parent and kids. Watch it again and you'll quickly remember how much you loved it the first time you saw it.
'Shrek the Third'
Another three years passed away before we got the third movie of the series, but it seemed that this time the wait didn't help much. What a letdown 'Shrek the Third' – or as I lovingly refer to it as 'Shrek the Turd' – is.
By this time it seemed that the storybook world had worn a little thin. The jokes became humorless. The emotion felt ultra sappy, and the story felt weak.
Prince Charming is still around and angry about how things played out in the second movie. He plots his revenge against Shrek and Fiona by enlisting the local villains such as Captain Hook and some menacing talking trees.
Meanwhile Shrek is being prepped to become the new king, because Fiona's father is sick and about to pass away. Shrek, like usual, bickers about change in his life and longs for his lazy days in the swamp. Ruling a kingdom is the last thing he wants to do. Before his death, Fiona's father, tells Shrek that there is only one other living heir. If he doesn't want to be king he must find Arthur, who is the kingdom's rightful inheritor.
The story coasts along on old jokes, tired references, and some ridiculous plot-convenient scenes like when Fiona's mom all of a sudden realizes that she can headbutt her way through solid stone walls, and then explaining it away by saying, "Well, where do you think you got your fighting skills from Fiona?"
'Shrek the Third' also upped the quotient of potty humor, which when used in doses in the first two movies was fine and somewhat funny. Here it grates on the senses and becomes annoying real fast. When Shrek imagines himself as a father, trying to raise ogre children he imagines one of his kids projectile vomiting like a fire house which he has to fight through. It just gets worse from there. I found myself wondering if the creative team behind the series had finally said, "We give up, let's churn out a movie and see if we can get the total box office above a billion dollars before everyone loses interest in these characters."
'Shrek Forever After'
After the ludicrous and unlikable third movie, my hopes were not high for a fourth installment. It had been another three years, but could the filmmakers right the Shrek ship and bring the franchise back into relevancy after the third film had all but destroyed its creativity and imagination? The short answer: Yes!
We owe much of the success of the fourth film to its hilarious and oft times neurotic villain Rumpelstiltskin. It's kind of funny, because the third one features an entirely different Rumpelstiltskin who is in Prince Charming's band of misfit villains. In 'Shrek Forever After' he's been updated and given a more cartoony, caricature feel. It's always nice when Dreamworks goes with more caricatures for humans instead of making them look exactly like humans. Their animation of the townsfolk has always been a little off and lifeless.
Instead of relying so much on fairy tale references, 'Shrek Forever After' seems to take quite a bit of influence, oddly enough, from 'Back to the Future 2,' and 'It's a Wonderful Life.' See Rumpelstiltskin has entered into a magical contract with Shrek in which he can find out what everyone's lives would've been like had he never been born. Shrek is having trouble coping with his marriage, the kingdom, Donkey, and his rambunctious young kids. On top of that, everyone wants him to act like an ogre whenever prompted. He just wants peace and quite. In a moment of desperation he signs the contract and finds out the hard way how much everyone does indeed love him.
'Shrek Forever After' returns to the series' high-flying action roots. The story moves fast and furious as Shrek soon finds out that Rumpelstiltskin has put some fine print into the contract that could end up keeping Shrek in this world of the unknown forever, while Rumpelstiltskin sits on the throne and looms over the kingdom like Biff does to Hill Valley in 'Back to the Future 2.'
My expectations for a fourth 'Shrek' movie were scraping the bottom of the barrel. I didn't expect much at all, and I was happy to have my cellar-dwelling anticipation lifted sky-high after watching the last film. It's a perfect way to end the series.
'Shrek' – 4 stars
'Shrek 2' – 4 stars
'Shrek the Third' – 2 stars
'Shrek Forever After' – 4 stars
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is how I personally like movie collections to come. No giant fold out cardboard mess. Just a simple cardboard sleeve, with some nicely embossed artwork that holds each movie in its own Blu-ray keepcase. All the movies have matching covers so none of them stand out as an odd duck. Each of the four films comes on a BD-50 (4 discs).
The first and second films have been some of the most coveted movies that haven't yet hit Blu-ray. Right now there's no option to buy them as stand-alone titles. This set is the only place you'll find the first two films on Blu-ray, so they're brand new transfers. 'Shrek Forever After' came out this same week, so it's a new transfer too.
Before we get into the actual scores, I just wanted to point something out. Keep track of how Dreamworks' animation progresses throughout time. You can literally see the difference between the detail and craftsmanship from the first to the fourth film. Animation technology has become exponentially better, and with that we get more colorful, more detailed, and more realistic looking animation. Sadly, never throughout this whole series has Dreamworks ever been able to get human faces and bodies right. They're far too rigid and lifeless. The cartoonish characters all look great, but the human characters always look stiff and uncomfortable.
You'll notice straightaway that 'Shrek's color palette is given a tremendous boost in high definition. Compare this to your DVD and you'll see that it's no contest. The colors are twice as bright and more vibrant than ever. 'Shrek' is presented in 1080p and in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Fine detail is also strong. The details of Shrek's dirty shirt and cracked leather vest stand out, as well as the hundreds of indentations on the back of the Gingerbread Man. It's easy to tell that the animation techniques used here are now dated. Some aliasing, minor banding, and shimmering are also visible throughout the movie. A few jagged edges here and there also find time to spoil the image ever so slightly. These technical anomalies aren't major problems but they may catch your eye every now and then and draw you away from what's happening on screen. Given its age, and the limitations of the animation at the time it was created, the first film is still given a strong debut on the Blu-ray format.
CGI animation technology has improved, and so has the overall effect of the high-definition image for this second installment in the franchise. I didn't think it was possible, but 'Shrek 2's colors are even more lush and effervescent than the first film's colors. Detail is optimum and even the slightest pinpoint of pixie dust floating around jarred up fairies in the beginning montage or the magical, sparkling dust created by the wand of the Fairy Godmother are perfectly visible. It reminded me of seeing the great detail in the pixie dust of 'Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure.' Shrek's craggy vest seems even more detailed this time around. Fine hairs are also completely visible as is evidenced when Donkey turns into the mighty steed. His long flowing main whips back and forth without a hint of aliasing, even among the thousands of tiny hairs that make it up. There is still some evident shimmering that crops up every now and then, and only a very, minor bit of banding that can be spotted in a couple of the blue skies that populate almost every scene. All together, this is a near-perfect transfer. Period.
'Shrek the Third'
This one will be short and sweet. Like 'Shrek 2' detail here is bold and resolute. Shrek's skin seems to have taken on a third dimension with a small bumpy texture that makes up his skin. Clothing on other characters, especially the women, is fantastically detailed. Every stitch in Fiona's dress is visible during closeups. Colors are just as well rendered as the first two movies. Shadow delineation adds a wonderful depth to the image as a whole. I didn't catch any shimmering in this film, but I did noticed a few instances of banding that can be seen as the movie opens up on stormy clouds. Other than that, it's another wonderfully beautiful transfer to add to this set.
'Shrek Forever After'
Here's where they get everything right. The second and third film could be used as demo-material during a few of their scenes, but 'Shrek Forever After' and its 1080p image could be used as demo-material throughout its entire runtime. In short, this is as perfect as video presentations come. The past three films came in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, so 'Shrek Forever After' is the odd one out with a 2.35:1 ratio. Still, there's no reason that should bother you. Just a choice by the filmmakers to go with a different aspect ratio. Nothing big. Detail is wonderful. Ogre skin seems more alive than ever, and the thousands of tiny hairs that make up Donkey and Puss move and sway with a life of their own without a hit of aliasing around them. Rumplestiltskin's gigantic eyeballs are another place to find some superb detail. Free from any artifacts like banding or shimmering, 'Shrek Forever After' shines as the best one of the bunch.
'Shrek' – 4 Stars
'Shrek 2' – 4.5 Stars
'Shrek the Third' – 4.5 Stars
'Shrek Forever After' – 5 Stars
All of the films in this collection have been given the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD experience. When 'Shrek the Third' was released on Blu-ray the first time it was accompanied by a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. So you're in for an upgrade here.
With its first foray into the Blu-ray format 'Shrek,' is given a full 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track to spread out in. The complete encircling soundfield is a magnificent stage for the movie's numerous pop songs. Smashmouth's lyrics from "All Star" will envelop you as the hearty beat encompasses the entire room. Shrek's swamp is busy with life when all the fairy tale creatures have been banned there. The extra side speakers add to a lifelike feel where ambient sound, voices and commotion can take place. The LFE rumbles during any of the scenes involving Dragon. As her tail crunches a stone bridge left and right you not only feel the bass in your chest, you can also hear the nuanced cracking and crushing clearly presented through the front channels. Dialogue is presented cleanly and clearly through the center channel, and directionality works wonders during the action scenes especially, placing voices, yells, and sword-clanging action that's happening just off screen in the exact place it needs to be.
Another near-perfect 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track. Just a few nuances that I noticed that I loved, seeing that this audio presentation is almost identical to 'Shrek's. The LFE produced during the Mongo attack isn't overwhelming, but it's clear and astonishingly deep even with the Fairy Godmother belting out "Holding Out for a Hero" at the top of her lungs. That scene in particular has some amazing prioritization. The song could have easily overtook the entire soundtrack, leaving dialogue and everything else in the dust. Everyone's dialogue, from Shrek's to Puss 'n Boot's (when he stops to fight the guards) is perfectly rendered. Since most of what was said for 'Shrek' could be put here, I just wanted to describe that whole sequence and how it sounds on the Blu-ray.
'Shrek the Third'
Another lossless 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track is provided here, along with another close-to-demo-worthy presentation. Again, like the two movies above, this one excels in most every audio aspect worth mentioning. I loved the scene where Prince Charming and his band of minions rides in on witch brooms ready to lay siege to the kingdom. Brooms zip around the room with the extra two speakers adding to that encompassing feel. When the two trees jump from their brooms they land with a bass-laden thud that really gives the soundtrack some life. Speaking of soundtrack, we've got another presentation that is quite friendly to the often played pop songs that have become 'Shrek' regulars. Dialogue never falters, prioritization works perfectly, and the rest as they say is history.
'Shrek Forever After'
That's right, not a bad thing to say about the three movies above when it comes to audio, but somehow, someway, 'Shrek Forever After' and its lossless 7.1 Dolby TrueHD presentation bests them all. If at all possible it sounds fuller, more complete, and will rock your house. Clarity in the ambient sound is dialed up to optimal. The two extra speakers do more work here than any other, placing much needed sound effects and commotion of battles perfectly, giving us all that much anticipated felling of "being there." The movie's soundtrack never overwhelms what's the other nuanced parts of the audio mix. Everything works together flawlessly to produce an exquisite listening experience in HD.
'Shrek' – 4.5 Stars
'Shrek 2' – 4.5 Stars
'Shrek the Third' – 4.5 Stars
'Shrek Forever After' – 5 Stars
'Shrek the Third'
'Shrek Forever After'
Over $2 billion in box office money between these four movies. That's a hefty chunk of change. Overall, 'Shrek' has been good more times than it's been bad or mediocre. It doesn't reach the heights that some of the Pixar movies have, but with it's own originality and spirit it's hard to even try and compare them. I'm a fan of this whole collection. The third movie is a bit of a letdown, but they bounced back with the fourth movie in spectacular fashion. This collection comes as a must own, because for right now at least, this is the only way you're going to get your hands on 'Shrek' and 'Shrek 2' on Blu-ray. That right there makes this an important set to have stowed away on your shelf. Add to that the fact that they all have stunning video and even more spectacular 7.1 audio and you'll find that this purchase was worth every penny. The special features have a few kinks and those parts on disc 2 and 4 where I got stuck in the Interactive Journey have me a bit worried. Hopefully, it's only my review copy of the set that does that and everyone else's is fine. The features, while abundant, become somewhat redundant after a while. They do have some great commentaries, but a lot of the other stuff is a little to EPK for its own good. Anyway, enough of that, I said it earlier and I'll say it again. This is a Must Own set.