Tag Archives: Toy Story

Best Films on TV: Christmas to New Year 2015

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Every 23rd December, for the past three years, we have released our pick of the films being shown on freeview TV over the Christmas schedule. Last year’s choices were made by Paul Field, but returning to this Failed Critics Christmas tradition is site editor Owen Hughes. It practically guarantees less Carry On movies and probably more big budget blockbusters…

A couple of years ago, we were regularly posting lists of films that we would recommend for the week ahead. Oh, how times have changed. It seems these days that with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, we’re less bothered about waiting for films to be shown on TV and instead watching whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is great! Except that it’s reduced these articles to annual posts.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a look through the TV schedule to see what tat is being pushed on us this year and tried to sift out some of the dross (although Steve will be pleased to know that The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is being shown on Christmas day at 11am) and chosen five decent-to-good movies each day in the run up to 2016.

Christmas Eve –

Finishing work early tomorrow? Want something to just stick on when you walk through the door to get you in a Christmassy mood? Well, stick Channel 4 on at 2.15pm and get straight into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Alternatively, if you’re sick of that bloody film already, try out the Robert Zemeckis animated A Christmas Carol over on BBC One at 2.20pm (it’s the version that I talked about on our Winterval Podcast this week). If you prefer your Scrooge’s to be real rather than cartoony, then stay up wrapping last minute presents until half past midnight for the 1951 version on Channel 5 starring Alastair Sim as the miserly grump. For those of us who relate a bit too much to Ebenezer, and can’t be arsed with this Christmas nonsense – bah humbug – then watch Karl Urban as the Mega-City One Judge, jury and executioner in Dredd on Film4 at 11.25pm or switch over to BBC Two five minutes later for one of Hitchcock’s best with Dial M For Murder.

Christmas Day –

We’ve had two of the most well known adaptations of Dickens’ novel, so why not start the afternoon with Channel 4 and give the other two a watch on Christmas day itself? Starting at 1.45pm with The Muppet Christmas Carol, they swiftly follow it up at 3.45pm with Bill Murray doing his thing in Scrooged. Later that evening, BBC Three have a double bill of animated movies that are safe to watch with granny, the kids, your other half or on your todd with Toy Story at 7.30pm and How To Train Your Dragon straight after it at 8.45pm. For something not at all schmalzy, sentimental or saccharine, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until much, much later in the evening as the Coen Brothers change the mood entirely at 00.05am on ITV4 with the hilarious 90’s comedy The Big Lebowski. Or, like, that’s just my opinion that it’s hilarious, man…

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Boxing Day –

It may be somewhat twee, and I’m aware Wes Anderson isn’t for everyone, but if there’s a better film on TV for you to crawl out of your hangover with after getting up extremely late than Fantastic Mr Fox on Channel 4 at 11.25am, then I couldn’t find it. You can time it right to fit in a quick turkey sarnie and a fresh cuppa between it finishing and Jurassic Park starting over on ITV at 1.20pm, reminding you just how good the original was after Jurassic World swept the box office clean earlier this year. Really though, you should be watching the football. I believe that’s what Boxing Day was invented for. Once Final Score has finished, switch over to the horror channel at 6.40pm for the intense Spielberg thriller, Duel. Film4 can round off a very late evening with two modern British classics in crime thriller Sexy Beast (11.25pm) and Scottish sci-fi – and one of our favourite movies of 2014 – Under The Skin (1.10am).

Sunday 27th –

That’s the Christmas movies well and truly out of the way now and it’s Studio Ghibli to the rescue as we kick off the day with one of their most celebrated works, the charming My Neighbour Totoro. Flick over to Channel 5 at 2.25pm to see one of the greatest movies ever made, John Ford’s most revered western, The Searchers, starring the Duke himself, John Wayne. Starting at 4.05pm on BBC One is a fantasy movie returning to where it all began with Oz: The Great and the Powerful, which is actually quite a nice, funny little family movie. You can choose how you’d like to round off the day with one of the following two. Personally, I’d go for one of my favourite discoveries of the year, Cronenberg’s body-horror Videodrome (the horror channel, 10.50pm) over Channel 4’s showing of The Inbetweeners 2 at 11.10pm, that both Steve and Callum tore to pieces.

Monday 28th –

You maniacs! You haven’t yet set your reminder! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to Hell! Well, at least until Monday morning at 10.15am when you switch on More4 and watch the original Planet of the Apes – AND THEN later that day you’ll be fully prepared for Film4’s 6.55pm screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At 8.30pm on BBC Three is Kung Fu Panda 2 (read why that’s a good thing in Callum’s brilliant piece from his DreamWorks retrospective). For something a little more… grown up… Steven Soderbergh’s movie Behind The Candelabra (BBC Two, 9pm) features one of Michael Douglas’s best ever performances. Finally, if the forgettable Terminator Genisys hasn’t already disappeared entirely from your memory, then James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day will wipe the last remnants from your mind on Film4 at 1.15am.

Tuesday 29th –

Channel 4, 2.30pm, Coraline. Film4, 6.10pm, Master & Commander. ITV2, 9pm, The Shawshank Redemption. ITV, 10.25pm, American Pie. My pick of the lot: Channel 5, 10.45pm, Erin Brockovich. That’s your lot. We’re running out of quality films on TV as the year comes to a close and I’m running out of patience trying to make these films sound interesting. However, if you think Tuesday’s films read a lot like a list of movies you’re glad that you’ve seen once but probably have no intention of ever watching again, just wait until you see what’s lined up for Wednesday…

Wednesday 30th –hobbit

We’ve got a run that starts with ITV2 at 5.45pm and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth (that I actually thought was quite enjoyable) with The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFilm4 will help change the tone to something surprisingly fun with Denzel and Wahlberg teaming up for crime-comedy Two Guns at 9pm. Tune into the horror channel at 10.45pm for some Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse horror at Planet Terror. Furious 7 may have already been voted for in quite a number of people’s submissions to the Failed Critics Awards, but Channel 4 go back a couple of sequels to Fast Five at 11.05pm. Afterwards, prepare for Joy with Film4’s showing of The Fighter at 1.10am.

Thursday 31st –

And here we are! New Year’s Eve and what better way to see off 2015 than with, er, well, The Adventures of TinTin on BBC One at 10.55am. (That was a rhetorical question. Don’t answer that.) More adventures are afoot with a rare screening of The Rocketeer on Channel 4 at 1.10pm and – a Pixar film guaranteed to make you cry – Up, over on BBC One at 2.50pm. I will be at a New Years party by this time (oooh get me) but if you fancy a night in watching movies to bring in 2016, then BBC4 honour Bob Hoskins, who sadly passed away this year, with Made In Dagenham at 10.55pm. Film4 are going slightly more modern and again doing the whole David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper / Robert De Niro thing and are showing Silver Linings Playbook at 11.10pm.

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1995

A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade

5. Clueless

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My plastic surgeon doesn’t want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose.

Less of a high school movie and more of a religious experience, Clueless charts the coming of age of me, and many other women now residing in their early thirties and still hopelessly in love with Paul Rudd. Meanwhile the twenty-something cast who played the students are somewhat older; Cher’s best friend Dion (actress Stacey Dash) turns 48 in a couple months. “Old people can be so sweet!”

Loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, the cute but selfish Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) realises that tis a far far better thing doing stuff for other people, and sets out on a mission to makeover, match make and mend herself, her friends, and the wider Beverly Hills community. A soundtrack of cheesy power ballads, maudlin cry baby music, and even a performance from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And a wardrobe that anyone who didn’t look like Alicia Silverstone would struggle to pull off, no matter how many different white shirts they tried under their knitted tank top. It’s been argued that Mean Girls had a bigger influence than Clueless on popular culture. Whatever.

4. Toy Story

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The word I’m searching for, I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.

I know. I tried to go a single year of this decade without picking an animation, but come on! You try not picking Toy Story. While Disney’s early nineties run of classics came to something of an abrupt end in 1995, with the release of historical Native American romance drama Pocahontas, a little known studio called Pixar turned up and blew us all away in the time it took Tom Hanks to say “Pull my string! The birthday party’s today?”

A stellar supporting cast including a shy dinosaur, a slinky dachshund, and a self-assured piggy bank. Barbie was originally intended to join the toy box as Woody’s love interest, however Mattel initially refused to license the character. So instead Woody hooked up with a porcelain figurine of Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts (Ghostbusters receptionist Janine Melnitz). This freed up Barbie for a fantastic guided tour of Al’s Toy Barn in Toy Story 2 and, more importantly, warranted the arrival of Michael Keaton’s outstanding take on Ken in Toy Story 3. Some things are just meant to be.

The first animated film to be nominated for a writing Academy Award. The start of genuinely one of the most flawless movie trilogies of all time.

3. Heat

heat

I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.

Proof that you shouldn’t get married without the ability to communicate via secret hand gestures. Most unnecessary inclusion of Val Kilmer on a film poster ever. Al Pacino saying “She’s got a GREAT ASS!”. Thanks to the dangerous combination of being an action movie and being set in LA, Heat was (to use Clueless terminology) brutally rebuffed by the Academy, picking up not a single Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, it remains almost 3 hours of crime thriller bank heist brilliance.

The first collaboration of Al Pacino & Robert De Niro in the same scene (both having previously starred in The Godfather Part II without sharing screen time). Creator Michael Mann describes it as “two protagonists…in deadly mortal combat with each other, (who) at the same time have a high regard for each other”, and based the relationship on the experiences of a real life Chicago cop from the sixties. Get Kilmer off the cover art though, seriously. He made Batman Forever the same year, for crying out loud. And then he celebrated by coming to Leicester for the premiere. No, not Leicester Square, actual Leicester.

Long term readers will, of course, have already seen Heat, after I instructed you to watch it on TV last April. One of the films I most enjoy pretending I am in, while doing banal things like walking down the street, and entering banks without robbing them.

2. Empire Records

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Welcome to Music Town, may I service you?

In a lifetime, you’ll get maybe a handful of films that really encapsulate you at various ages. Empire Records is my teen angst era. When I wasn’t hanging around the second hand cd stores of Leicester, or writing A level essays on Sir Robert Peel, I was watching this. And while I didn’t necessarily share their drug habits, mental health issues or compulsions to sleep with aging pop stars, I was all about their inner turmoil.

Another coming of age tale, this time set in the independent record store of my very dreams. Anthony LaPaglia and said bunch of angsty teens (including Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler) provide the public with music, and attempt to avoid corporate takeover. All the plaid skirts, baggy pants and swearing you’d expect from early nineties youth. With a soundtrack as eclectic as a movie set in a record store should be – this is the film that introduced me to Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet, for crying out loud.

In their wisdom, Warner Brothers made the only available version of the DVD a ‘Special Fan Edition’, adding 16 minutes of additional footage, and ruining the flow of the entire film for anyone who knew it off by heart having watched the VHS copy every morning for six months and calling it study leave.  I could be a little over-emotionally invested in this one, to the point where I would erroneously rank it above the first on screen cinematic alliance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. But I doubt it.

1. The Usual Suspects

usualsuspects

Is that the one about the hooker with dysentery?

When Dan Hedaya wasn’t playing Cher’s litigator father in Clueless, he was the LA cop whose messy office had an unexpected role in a drug deal gone bad. Starring an incredibly youthful Kevin Spacey, with brilliant support from, among others, Pete Postlethwaite as terrifying ice cold lawyer Kobayashi, and Benicio del Toro as the truly captivating Fenster. Set in the aftermath of a ship fire, and told via a police interrogation and a series of flashbacks, The Usual Suspects is the story of a police line-up, and a Turkish criminal mastermind.

The screenplay won both the Oscar and the BAFTA, and the Writers Guild of American ranked it number 35 in their 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. The very epitome of a twist ending. I’d love to be able to play the piano, but only if I could be proficient in certain songs (I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Don’t Stop Me Now, Piano Man). Similarly, if I was going to be a screenwriter, I’d want to be churning out stuff of this quality on a semi regular basis. Imagine being the guy who sits down and writes Keyser Soze. I’m not even worthy of writing this two paragraph review of that writing. I should have just picked Bad Boys.

Shrek

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

shrek 2This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


05] Shrek (18th May 2001)

Budget: $60 million

Gross: $484,409,218

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

What can I say about Shrek that hasn’t already been said and that won’t just dissolve into hyperbole?  See, everybody knows Shrek.  Everybody knows the impact that it had on Western Feature-Length Animation for almost a full decade, everybody knows just how much to the forefront it brought stunt casting to the medium, everybody knows how it signalled the switch to an all CG format for these films, everybody knows the lyrics to “All Star” by Smash Mouth.  Shrek is one of those films that everybody knows, and that makes it rather difficult for me to talk about.  I don’t want to just sit here and regurgitate facts at you, but I don’t want to resort to hyperbole and overstate the film’s importance like, let’s face it, it is very easy to do.  So, instead, I am going to have to go the dull route this time and explain the joke, explain why Shrek works and why it was seen as a major breath of fresh air at the time.  I know, that means I have to turn into That Guy, but a nice bit of perspective is good every once in a while.  Plus, it may be able to help contextualise why the next two DreamWorks films didn’t do so well and why everybody, including the company itself, would spend the following decade making shallow rip-offs of the winning formula.

First, however, a clarification, Shrek is not the saviour of Western Feature-Length Animation.  1999 may have been a dreadful year for animation, as we already discussed, and 2000 honestly wasn’t much better, but 2001 was not too bad, most likely down to the relative lack of releases.  Yes, there were bombs, most notoriously the live-action/animation hybrid Osmosis Jones and the photo-realistic CG spectacle known as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but there were several unqualified successes.  Recess: School’s Out quadrupled its budget thanks to the large popularity of the show at the time, Atlantis: The Lost Empire significantly underperformed but still managed to turn an OK profit, Richard Linklater’s experimental Waking Life somehow managed to take $2.5 million, Monsters, Inc. became one of the year’s highest grossing films, and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was so successful that Nickelodeon were able to spin a full-fledged franchise out of the thing.  Shrek was not an anomaly, is what I’m getting at.

It was, however, and this cannot be overstated, a full-on box-office phenomenon.  It opened to $42 million, a ridiculous opening for an animated film that didn’t have a company with the kind of marketable goodwill that Pixar had with Toy Story.  It did not stay at the top for Week 2, due to Pearl Harbor, but it did something far better than Pearl Harbor: it gained money.  Not a lot over the three day weekend, 0.3%, but the full-on four day Memorial Day weekend saw a 30% increase over the opening weekend takings.  No, this simply does not happen to films that open that big; that’s the power that Shrek held at the time.  It only started making serious slides down the chart when Atlantis showed up and, even then, it gave as good as it got, actually beating Atlantis on the pair’s last appearance in the top 10.  Domestically, it actually beat Monsters, Inc. overall for the year.  You can overstate its importance in the animated landscape, you cannot overstate its box office dominance.

So, why?  Why was Shrek such a major success?  Why did it connect with audiences in a way that most non-Pixar films weren’t?  Well, honestly, it’s due to a multitude of factors but only one of them was taken away by people, both viewers and executives who noted the film’s success, who saw the film, the most tangible element: its edge.

Now, to say that Disney films are toothless and aimed at the youngest is a major misnomer.  You want an animated film that’s toothless and aimed at only the youngest, go and watch The Quest For Camelot.  However, Disney films are sentimental, very much so, and are prone to trying to water down the darker or more adult elements of their stories with comic relief sidekicks for the kids, primarily of the talking animal variety.  Mushu, Terk, Timon & Pumbaa, all the way back to the seven dwarves.  Regardless of whether you like them or not (and they are often some of the best parts of their movies in the best instances), their mere existence can scream to most people, “Look!  Funny cartoon for kids!”  And Disney films are romantic to a fault, especially their early work, with tales as old as time of brave, dashing princes saving fair, kind-hearted young maidens from whatever evil befalls them, of true love at first sight, magic and all that fancy, wonderful stuff.  They were on their way of at least toning down the overtness of this formula, and this obviously wasn’t the formula for everything they did, but it still wasn’t really enough.  Their films were still a bit too sentimental, too younger-skewing, too “safe”.  The fact that most other competitors were more focussed on attempting to emulate Disney’s style than come up with a voice of their own probably didn’t help matters.  Times had changed and the public needed something different.  Something with edge.

Cue the opening of Shrek.

I mean, sure, it looks tame and childish and petulant and toilet-humour and, well, that’s because it is, but for the time this was quite revelatory.  This was DreamWorks Animation throwing down the gauntlet.  “This is our film!  We’re not like those Disney films!  We’re not going to romanticise anything!  Here’s a real protagonist, he’s ugly and he farts and he’s as far removed from your typical clean-cut hero as we can get!”  Again, edge.  Sledgehammer-subtle satire and open digs at Jeffrey Katzenberg’s old company.  The film is littered with these: the Duloc welcome machine, the design of Duloc looking like it was rejected from Disneyland, Princess Fiona’s continued assertions that her rescue is all wrong, the Robin Hood song being rather disturbing in content and quickly cut off because we are a film in the 21st century and musicals are sooo last century man, waterboarding the Gingerbread Man, there’s an extended Matrix reference because this was 2001 and we were just close enough to the end of Spaced’s second series (the cut-off point for this stuff) to not be completely sick of Matrix references yet…   Most of these achieve the desired effect of “parody” and “satire” barely, the best instances coming up with actual jokes or character work (you get no surprises for guessing what one element of Fiona’s character arc is) instead of just pointing at them and going “That’s a dumb thing for poo-poo heads!”  There are a lot more of the former than I was expecting, it’s just that a lot of it has aged really poorly; satire that curiously and possibly ironically carries the same toothless easy safeness that its target applies to telling actual stories.

Yet, at the time, it worked, possibly due to that broadness and occasional childishness, because that allowed everybody to get it and have everyone feel like they were part of this big taboo thing.  Although the film wasn’t really doing anything particularly edgy and risky, toilet humour and digs at Disney aren’t exactly hard to come by nowadays and I suspect they weren’t back then either, people lapped it up because it looked risky, it looked edgy.  They were insulting Disney and making a whole bunch of fart, burp and poop gags!  You simply didn’t openly insult that sacred cow on film or show that stuff in feature-length animation because, well, nobody else has done those things before to our knowledge so it must not be OK!  It’s like when you first watch an escapologist on a stage show in a locked water tank.  He’s not really in any danger cos he’s done this trick a million times before and there’s a highly trained rescue crew all set in case anything does go wrong, but you’ve never seen the trick before and the sheer audacity has you on the edge of your seat wondering if they can get away with it.

Plus, the constant piss-taking of the nature of fairy tales and especially their sappiness seems rather hypocritical when the film, in its final third, turns into a straight fairy tale, just with non-conventionally attractive characters.  I mean, it was obviously coming from frame one, but it’s the way that it mocks certain tropes (ones that it’s not using for character development, like Shrek’s belief that fairy tales are a bunch of bullcrap) but then goes ahead and plays them straight in the finale anyway.  A lot is made out of Fiona’s agency in the first two-thirds, how she may be overly attached to the romantic storybook nature of fairy tales but is still strong, capable, more of a tomboy than she first appears and frequently acts like a woman willing to take charge and drive proceedings, but then the plot entirely hangs around whether she’ll be saved from the evil man by her true love, Shrek.  She even spends the finale being easily restrained by the villains despite having previously had an entire sequence that showed her effortlessly wiping the floor with a group of the exact same size.

So, edge is predominately seen as the reason why Shrek was a runaway mega-success.  You may claim different, but it’s what countless lesser imitations took from it and it’s why Donkey became the thing that practically every kid was quoting on every playground for a good while after.  Like it or not, toilet humour connects with kids and jokes aimed squarely at parents, often around mocking how terrible the kind of dreck they’re often forced to sit through is, connects with them too.  It was the tangible “something different” that audiences could latch onto, the edge.  So, naturally, that’s what everybody ran with, the fact that it had an attitude.  Except that, well, that’s not the reason why Shrek works or, in fact, the reason why it was so successful.  See, edge on its own, with nothing to back it up or off-set it, is just off-putting; an entire film of just Shrek pointing at fairy tale tropes and sugarcoating and the like and smugly going “Heh!  Look at those squares with their baby stories!  We’re too cool and grown-up for that sh*t!  Now here’s a fart joke!  *fart*!” would be insufferable and likely have turned away the mass public it ended up courting.  In that case, what’s the real reason why Shrek succeeded to the extent that it did?

Well, let’s look at a few more surface-level and tangible things before we ensnare the real reason in our grasp.  For one, you cannot fault the marketing.  You’ve seen the trailer that was embedded earlier in this piece.  Hell, you’ve seen the trailers for the films in every one of these articles so far.  Regardless of what you think of the film it’s advertising, you have to admit, from an objective standpoint, it’s a fantastic trailer.  It’s got laughs, it sells the premise easily, the cast is clearly marketed because apparently such a thing really does drag people who wouldn’t normally see this stuff into the cinema, and it has a clear target audience in mind.  Allow me to put it to you this way: compare that with the trailer for Titan A.E., or the trailer for Atlantis: The Lost Empire, or hell even the trailer for The Emperor’s New Groove.  Again, we’re not rating the films, we’re rating the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.  Also, and yes it really must be said, the fact that Shrek was CG probably helped get a lot of initial butts in seats.  You may scoff, but do you think anybody would have seen Dinosaur or Jimmy Neutron without that New Technological Advancement Smell (see also: films that inexplicably made a bucketful more of money post-Avatar than they would have because they too came with alternative 3D viewing modes) coming off of them?  Plus, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz were at the top of their box office games when this was released, for whatever that’s all worth.

But this is all getting away from the real reason why Shrek was such a runaway success and why it still, to a degree, works today.  Of course, the film itself wouldn’t admit to it if you showed it to it, it’d probably derisively laugh and snidely quip about how that’s so yesterday daddy-o or something.  And, perhaps surprising no-one, it’s the element that all of the desperate imitators that cropped up in Shrek’s aftermath (you have no idea how much my soul cried upon seeing Disney’s Chicken Little when I was younger, you really don’t) chose to ignore.  Nonetheless, it’s the reason why the film works and it’s really quite a basic one.  See, strip away the CGI, the well-done marketing campaign, the stunt casting, the toilet humour, the Dance Party Ending and the “satirical” and “edgy” humour, and you find filmmaking basics: great character work and a tonne of heart.  That’s it.  That’s the secret ingredient.

I’m not kidding.  This film is at its best when it wears its heart on its sleeve and feeds its humour through character work or genuine heart instead of just “for-the-hell-of-it”.  For all of the opening’s pomp and circumstance, the edgy-but-not-too-edgy Smash Mouth soundtrack and the extensive sequence of Shrek showering himself in muck, the little character beat that best sells the character of Shrek is a blink-and-you’ll-miss it little cue near the end when he spots the villagers coming to hunt him and he just sighs and shakes his head before heading off to do his ogre thing.  In that one little action, likely missed by most people, the personal conflict that appears in Shrek’s arc, his preference for being alone but in actuality craving some kind of acceptance, is conveyed.  It’s why the onion thing works, too.  It’s not just an easily quotable scene that’s rendered funny by the rapport and delivery of Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers, it gets across Shrek’s desire to be looked upon as more than just an ogre in his jerkier form; note how the stargazing scene that he and Donkey share later on basically touches upon the same things but in a softer way, more reflective of how he’s warmed to Donkey even if he won’t admit to it.

The character work is why the fact that our four lead characters are played by major and recognisable Hollywood actors isn’t an issue.  See, unlike, say, Shark Tale (we will get to that thing, believe me), everyone in Shrek is playing a character instead of themselves.  Donkey may be a very Eddie Murphy character, but he has his own identifiable character, arc and traits that are obviously distinguishable from Murphy.  He delivers his lines in a way that is unmistakably Eddie Murphy, but he’s still playing Donkey, if that makes sense.  The same is true of Mike Myers, the same is true of Cameron Diaz, the same is true of John Lithgow.  It’s not just stunt casting because they’re big name stars (although, considering the fact that she is by far the weakest of the bunch, one could still level that complaint at Cameron Diaz), it feels like they were picked because they honestly were the best for the job.  Mike Myers, especially, commits 100% to making Shrek a character instead of a thinly-disguised Mike Myers self-insert or something; the decision to have the character speak in a Scottish accent came from him and, according to Kaztenberg, caused $4 million worth of animation to be thrown away in order to fix the lip-syncing caused by the change.  Of course, seeing as that Scottish accent so perfectly embodies the character of Shrek in this film, I have a feeling that few people minded in the end.

Shrek, though, is always at its best when it wears its heart on its sleeve.  Because it does have a heart, a great big mushy one not unlike the fairy tales it spends a lot of its runtime openly flipping metaphorical birds at.  See, when you get right down to it, this is a film about sad lonely characters outcast by society for their various physical deformities and eccentricities forming friendships and relationships with one another based on that shared lack of acceptance.  It’s why the film’s turn in the last third into a straight fairy tale, whilst admittedly a bit hypocritical seeing as it spent the prior 60 minutes snobbily scoffing at their continued existence, works, because it believes in the characters.  It loves the characters, it wants to give them that fairy tale ending because it truly cares for them, and we sit there and go, “Yep, story checks out,” because it let that heart break through early on and its total taking over of the picture doesn’t feel false.  That middle 30 minute stretch with Fiona, and most specifically the montage set to an admittedly on-the-nose choice of Eels song (in fact, let’s not beat around the bush, all of the film’s song choices, whilst mostly great, are so on-the-nose it makes The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’s sound cues look subtle by comparison), is what makes the curse twist and what makes an otherwise super on-the-nose “Hallelujah”-backed montage carry genuine emotional resonance instead of ringing false.

But the heart isn’t just limited to the obvious moments and arcs, it informs some of the film’s best gags and scenes.  For every Matrix reference just because, for every open mockery of Disney (which, again, really has not aged well at all), there are gags and scenes that have had heart and effort put into them.  Think of the Magic Mirror The Dating Game riff.  On the one hand, yeah, it comes out of nowhere and is a clear reference to dating game shows.  But, on the other hand, it’s a different spin on the exposition dump that princess back-stories in these types of films are usually saddled with.  It dresses up the trope in fancy new clothing, making what once was rote, boring and obvious now fast, funny and interesting.  There’s a genuine reason for it being here and, barring one awfully-misguided gag about Snow White (and, no, this is not the last time that I will call out a Shrek film for going too far joke-wise), it retains a respect for the characters it ensnares.  The fight scene in Duloc’s palace is funny for its wrestling references and there is something basely funny about an old woman screaming for someone to “Give him the chair!” but, again, it works on character and heart-based levels.  It’s not just a wrestling scene just because, like Fiona’s Matrix sequence ends up, it helps foster Shrek and Donkey’s relationship and gives Shrek his first taste of public acceptance, igniting the need he didn’t think he had.  Likewise, the plight of the fairy tale creatures, their persecution and occasional torture, is nearly always portrayed sympathetically.  Yes, there is something inherently funny on seeing a legless Gingerbread Man begging to keep his gumdrop buttons, but the film is always on his side and isn’t just doing it for the laughs and cruelty.

That is why Shrek works.  Strip away the still pretty-decent CG (the strong character designs are what carry it through comparatively stiff animation), the all-star cast, the pop song soundtrack, the double-coding of gags (incidentally, the recurring “Do you think he’s compensating for something?” line in relation for Farquad’s castle is an example of double-coding done right), the “satire” and the “edge”, and what you have left are strong characters and a tonne of heart, the cornerstone of most great films worth their salt and what Disney were still putting out at the time of Shrek’s release.  But, of course, most people take those things for granted and look for the more obvious and tangible elements to praise instead.  Admittedly, they’re not totally wrong, the attitude, “edginess” and CGI are what made Shrek unique and are likely a large reason for its success, we do like to have our classic stories and tropes dressed-up in newer clothing after all.  But they’re not the reason why the film works, they’re not the reason why people kept coming back to the cinema for eight full weeks, they’re not the reason why the film won the 2001 Annie Award for Best Film and the first ever Best Animated Feature Oscar, and they’re not the reason why the film still works 13 years on and well after viewing #30 (yes, I was a kid and mainlined the VHS and DVD at the time).  Shrek works because it remembered that edge does not equal a substitute for strong characters and a giant beating heart at its centre.

Unfortunately for most of the 2000s, it’s a shame that nobody else really seemed to figure that out.


Shrek changed pretty much everything, but it would take a while for its effects to be fully felt and for anyone to be able to capitalise on the major impression that Shrek made on the pop culture and Western Feature-Length Animation landscapes (animation lead times, and all).  In the meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation still had two traditionally-animated films to burn through… unfortunately, they ended up being released in the worst possible time for that form of the medium.  Over the next two weeks, we’ll chart the fall of traditional animation in Western Feature-Length Animation, beginning with 2002’s Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Best films on TV – week commencing 15th April 2013

This week’s choices are from our editor, James Diamond.

24hourpartypeopleMonday 15th April – The Bourne Supremacy (ITV2, 10.30pm)

Try to forget the sheer boredom of last year’s The Bourne Narcolepsy by diving into one of the better sequels of recent times. Paul Greengrass’s first go at the helm of a Bourne film, and it’s a cracker of an action movie, with Matt Damon returning as the super soldier pushed to the edge when sinister forces won’t let him enjoy his retirement. Brilliant support from Brian Cox and Joan Allen ensure that  the film feels more heavyweight than the majority of its peers.

Tuesday 16th April – Stalag 17 (More4, 11.10am)

As is now pretty standard in these pieces, I’m going to suggest a film that I’ve got tucked away on my unnamed DVR box and still haven’t got around to watching. This week’s choice in that category is about as low-risk a recommendation as they come though, what with it being a Billy Wilder film that’s firmly entrenched in the IMDB Top 250. William Holden stars as a wheeler-dealer POW during WWII who suddenly finds himself in grave danger when his men suspect him of being an informer for the Germans. Also on today is Blue Valentine (Film4, 11.20pm), and all you need to know about that is that it stars Ryan Gosling.

Wednesday 17th April – Tropic Thunder (BBC3, 10pm)

One of the better examples of the type of high concept comedy that Hollywood seems to churn out by the shedload these days, usually starring some combination of Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carrell. What elevates Tropic Thunder is its happiness to poke fun at the very industry that made it, from Robert Downey Jr’s character’s extreme method acting, to Tom Cruise cameo as a vile Hollywood producer.

Thursday 18th April – 24 Hour Party People (Film4, 11.30pm)

The first of the Steve Coogan/Michael Winterbottom ‘ego’ collaborations (with their latest The Look of Love out this month), and probably their best. It charts the rise of ‘Madchester’, Factory Records, and the brilliant Tony Wilson (surely an inspiration for Alan Partridge). My local indie nightclub seem to have this playing on mute in a constant loop most Saturday nights, so I’ll be taking this rare opportunity to actually listen to the brilliant soundtrack. Word of warning though, DO NOT watch Knowing (Film4, 9pm) directly beforehand. I didn’t know it was possible for a Nic Cage film to be this bad.

Friday 19th April – The Shawshank Redemption (ITV2, 9pm)

Look, I know it’s obvious. I know it’s a clichéd choice, and I know that you’ve probably already seen it before. That doesn’t stop The Shawshank Redemption being the best film on TV today. Its number one rating on IMDB may be overstating its brilliance slightly, but away from the hype it is still a wonderfully written and directed film (adapted  from Stephen King’s novella by Frank Darabont, the man who brought The Walking Dead to our screens), driven by two utterly magnificent central performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.

Saturday 20th April – Parenthood (ITV, 10.45pm)

Now and again a film comes along with an ensemble cast that is so perfect, with everyone at the top of their game, that you just want to sit back and watch them work. Parenthood is one of those films, with brilliant performances from Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, Dianne West, Tom Hulse, Keanu Reeves, and a young Joaquin Phoenix. A film with great humour, and a lot of heart.

Sunday 21st April – Toy Story & Toy Story 2 (ITV2, 12.10pm)

I know this is cheating a little, but I’m not going to turn down the chance to recommend a double-bill of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. My site, my rules. Toy Story is the film that made Pixar famous, and possibly even saved Disney. Even now the animation looks great, but it’s the smart script (including input from none other than Joss Whedon) and top-notch voice performances from the likes of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen that make this one of the finest family films ever made. Toy Story 2 doesn’t quite live up to the first film, but if you’re watching the first you’d need to have had your mind melded not to hang around for the sequel. Those in search of the perfect family film day can probably fit in a quick toilet break before Jurassic Park (ITV, 3.55pm) starts. Heaven.

Using Windows 95 to defeat aliens, and other plot holes

The podcast’s very own Steve Norman talks us through the various plot-holes, and narrative choices in films that beguile, frustrate, and bemuse him. BEWARE – HERE BE SPOILERS…


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Before he’s became president Abe was a vampire hunter going after the people who wronged his family. In his training he learnt that his weapon of choice had to be finished in silver to kill the enemy permanently.

Then when the vampires join the south during the civil war Lincoln seems to forget the fact that silver kills them for years, almost until it’s too late.

Surely such an experienced vampire slayer and one of the greatest men to have ever lived wouldn’t have overlooked such an important fact.

GOAL!

Mentioned in another article but a Mexican illegal immigrant living in the United States with no real footballing pedigree or background beyond an organised kick a bout would not be able to get a work permit to play for Newcastle United.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Robots are pretty clever in Star Wars. C3PO can calculate the odds of navigating an asteroid field quicker than Ladbrokes can work out the odds of your five team accumulator. He can speak 3 million languages and in those awful prequels robots made up the whole Trade Federation army.

So why would the Empire not blast a single escape pod out of the sky just because it had no life forms on board. You’d have thought some jobs worth would have pulled the trigger as it was an Imperial directive 7563.

The Shawshank Redemption

Not breaking any ground with this revelation so I won’t dwell on it too much but how did Andy Dufresne get the poster back on the wall?

Indiana Jones: The Raiders of the Lost Ark

Not really a plot hole as Indy didn’t know what he was doing but Indiana Jones is responsible for the Second World War and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. If he doesn’t stop the Nazis, the Ark of the Covenant will make its way directly to Berlin and Adolf Hitler. When history’s second famous moustache (behind Neville Southall) opens the big box he and the majority of his high command will have their face melted off.

War over.

Toy Story

The toys know they are a toy that’s why they act inanimate and like toys when humans, or even dogs, are around. But when Buzz Lightyear comes into the fold he thinks he is a space ranger. So why does he act like a toy when Andy’s in the room?

Inglourious Basterds

Hugo Stiglitz is so famous everyone in the German army has heard of him. His face is in the papers as a traitor. So why when the Basterds go to the Inn does nobody recognise him?

Independence Day

I didn’t really want to include it but it’s in the title. However how an advanced alien race is able to have their systems hacked by Windows 95 is explained in a deleted scene. On that basis I’ll let it slide.

Feel free to offer up explanations to some of the ‘plot holes’ above, or even let us know the plot holes that have annoyed you over the years.