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"Shrek the Halls"? Skip It and Stick with the Classics

by on November 16, 2008

I’m not a huge fan of the Shrek films, finding them cynical and highly artificial cinematic exercises that are only intermittently funny. If I’ve lost you already, then odds are that Shrek the Halls is just the holiday special you’ve been waiting for, and you should stop reading now, since everything else in this review is just going to upset you. Shrek the Halls is an unusually risible Christmas special that has pathetically little to recommend it.

More like Dreck the HallsThe basic plot has DreamWorks’ putatively lovable ogre experiencing his first Christmas with his wife, Fiona, and three ogre babies. He tries to discover the meaning of the holiday with the help of Donkey and all his other friends, learning in the end that—

Well, that’s really the whole problem with Shrek the Halls. It’s just a complete mess of a special with the thinnest of plots and no worthwhile connection to the holiday it’s supposed to celebrate. It does little more than stumble through a series of cacophonous set pieces for about 22 minutes, hoping that it will add up to something vaguely heartwarming or meaningful by the end. It fails. Having some kind of message—religious, secular, or both—is nearly mandatory for any Christmas-themed special, and for that reason it is perhaps easier to forgive a lack of subtlety when they deliver a message. But Shrek the Halls‘ message is horribly muddled and generates no emotional response whatsoever. The most I can puzzle out is that you should be nice to people during the holidays even as they invade your house and drive you crazy, and you should do whatever your wife says. The first lesson is stupid and the second is blitheringly obvious, and neither really has anything to do with the spirit of Christmas.

It’s a little bit rarer to find specials that take the approach of the Sam and Max Christmas episode, using the holiday purely as window dressing and carrying on the business as usual of making us laugh. Such shows deliberately thumb their noses at the deeper meaning of the holiday, often resulting in even more irreverent humor than usual. Unfortunately, Shrek the Halls just isn’t funny, either. At all. The funniest gag in the whole show still produces little more than a faint giggle as it turns the opening of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” into the most ominous Christmas carol in existence, but after that, what few tiny titters the special produces mostly come from offhand comments by Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots. I’m not much of a fan of Mike Myers’ pseudo-Scottish Shrek, but his performance in this special feels especially phoned in, as though he was too busy cashing the check to bother working very hard, even if just to maintain his accent. Eddie Murphy’s Donkey substitutes volume for genuine energy or enthusiasm, and Cameron Diaz gets exceptionally little to do as Fiona.

I was not a huge fan the character designs or the animation in the Shrek movies, so I’m similarly unimpressed with this special. However, the good news is that the special looks about the same as the movies, with few visible concessions to what one presumes was the much smaller budget of a TV special.

The DVD for Shrek the Halls doesn’t come with many extras. The special can be watched in anamorphic widescreen or full-frame format, with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack in multiple languages. Special features are restricted to a few sing-along tracks and games for kids too simple to realize how bad the main feature really is. At some point, someone will have to explain the purpose of the “DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox” to me, but one is on this DVD as well.

Warner Bros. has just released a wonderfully remastered edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and there are similarly excellent DVDs for specials like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Olive the Other Reindeer, and the Rankin-Bass classics. South Park has done quite a few Christmas episodes that treat the holidays with the same iconoclastic irreverence as anything else. You can also splurge on boxed sets for The Tick Season 2 or Sam and Max, which have stunningly hilarious Christmas-themed episodes. In such company, Shrek the Halls is a holiday special without a holiday message and fails to fill that lack with laughs. It’s a complete waste of time that serves no purpose other than to try and improve DreamWorks’ quarterly numbers. Don’t encourage them.

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