Saturday, March 29, 2014


The next stop on my national tour for New York City disaster relief was arranged by Grouch productions and set for Nome, Alaska.  As commercial air to Nome is somewhat difficult to come by, I made my way to Anchorage and started flagging down Cessnas at the airport in order to make my way out to the arctic.  I finally attracted the attentions of a bush pilot, an adorable little Yupik named Ginger Tom, who noticed me waving a spare Ungaro frock over my head and loaded me into a divine little biplane.  He got me to Nome so I could begin preparations for my concert. Alaska is lovely at this time of year with all the yellow birch trees, blue skies and SUVs in all colors dotting the landscape. I was met at the airport by a grouchy army sergeant who escorted me into town and introduced me to the fine folks at the Board of Trade Saloon who are hosting the benefit. They're expecting quite a crowd tonight and I heard a number of young men talking about how much they're looking forward to my table dancing. I corrected them and told them that this was Lester on Lister, an innovative, mystical interpretive modern dance piece on the subject of bacteriology. They looked confused.

The army sergeant, who was far less grouchy after several cups of coffee escorted me to lunch at Nome's finest cafe where we had some sort of fish (at least it had fins) and gazed out at the cold waters of the arctic. I pined slightly for Norman, as I often do when I see lonely stretches of water, but was soon restored to good humor by the promise of a dog sled ride, something I hadn't had since I played third Aleut woman in Igloos of Fire, the musical remake of Nanook of the North. I spent an hour or so on the sled (quite a bumpy experience). I later learned that it works better if there's snow on the ground.

I just had time to catch a film before preparing for the show and happened across Shrek, the animated film from DreamWorks that was something of a sensation earlier this summer. I had thought perhaps it had something to do with Nosferatu but, instead, it's about a large green ogre (who looks a bit like a cross between Jesse Ventura and a garden slug) and is voiced by Mike Myers with one of his bad Scots accents. Other star voices come from Eddie Murphy as a talking donkey (not much of a stretch), John Lithgow as the villain, and Cameron Diaz as the beautiful princess with a secret.

Based on a children's book by William Steig, Shrek tells the story of the eponymous ogre who lives comfortably in a swamp where he does cutely gross things with his various body fluids. One day, the local aristocrat, Lord Farquad (a not very nice and thinly disguised portrait of Michael Eisner), decides to clear his kingdom of fairytale denizens in preparation for his marrying a princess and becoming king. The rounding up and shipping off of such familiar characters as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs et al. allows lots of digs at Disneyana. The dispossessed arrive in Shrek's swamp and off he goes to see the lord in order to get his privacy back. Lord Farquad promises him his solitude if he can rescue the fair princess Fiona from a dragon and return her to him so she can be his bride. Shrek sets off with his companion, a wise cracking donkey to get the princess. The princess, when met, has some tastes and behavior patterns not typical of princesses and harbors a rather big secret. Eventually though, in the way of fairy tales, all wrongs are righted, the wicked are punished and we are given promises of happily ever after.

The film succeeds as its humor exists on several levels. The fractured fairy-tales elements will be amusing to children (even if they don't get some of the very adult jokes that go along with their new situations - their parents will and will snigger along). The scathing anti-Disney satire (evident in all the scenes taking place at the lord's castle and then some) will amuse those tired of the Disney sanitization of traditional stories and those who have been upset at the mercenary ways of the company under the Eisner regime. The film also takes cliché situations (the princess dueting with a bird, the fight with the dragon) and turns them on their head quite neatly. It should do more of this because, in other moments, it bogs down in the claptrap it's claiming to eschew.

The animation, a realistic 3-D CGI, is colorful and fun and starts to show some new uses of the form. I'm a big fan of animation in film as it allows for creation of alternate worlds more surely than anything else and I hope that the trend towards additional experimentation in the area continues. There's an occasional sequence where you get the feeling the animators were showing off but most of the effects serve the story well.

The vocal performances are fine although Eddie Murphy's shtick wearies after a time. John Lithgow comes up with the most finely nuanced one as the evil Farquad but Cameron Diaz has her moments as well as the unconventional princess. There are a few musical sequences, especially a big finale to Neil Diamond's 'I'm a Believer' that feel like they were added to pad the film out. They aren't needed. The finale, which is telegraphed miles away, is also a little too moralistic/preachy and a good sardonic twist would have been nice.

Ogre flatulence. Three blind mice. Flying donkey. Giant Farquad head. Boiling lava. Lipsticked dragon. Gratuitous 'Dating Game' parody. Fried egg breakfast. Gratuitous symbolic abandoned windmill. Jitterbugging Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.

No comments:

Post a Comment