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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Shrek's mark on movie history
By James Bregman
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Shrek 2
Shrek 2 has become one cinema's most successful films
With the success of Shrek 2 , DreamWorks - the studio behind the sequel - is threatening to topple cartoon kingpins Disney. As the blockbuster opens across the UK, BBC News Online takes a look at the changing face of the animated feature film.

Fans of the first Shrek movie have eagerly awaited the return of the big green ogre, who proved a runaway success in cinemas in 2001.

Since it debuted in the US on 19 May, the sequel has become one of the top 10 most successful films to date, clinching record box office figures for an animated film.

Beyond from the handsome computer-generated animation, the tone of the film marks a radical and deliberate departure from tradition.

Shrek makes an unconventional foray into the territory of the old-fashioned fairy tale, once dominated by Disney and the focus of many of their 2-D animated classics.

The eponymous ogre inhabits a world where heroes revel in noisy bodily functions, cute birds are cooked for breakfast, and Pinocchio wears women's underwear.


DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg made his first foray into 2-D animation in the 1990s, but the Amblimation output was overshadowed by modern Disney classics like Beauty and The Beast and The Lion King.

Toy Story
Toy Story inspired the current generation of animated films

However, increasingly traditional 2-D animation has played second fiddle to computer-generated features.

Disney's partnership with the ground-breaking digital specialists Pixar gave the film studio an early lead on the C-G market with films like Toy Story (1995) and its sequel, Toy Story 2 (1999).

But newcomers like DreamWorks were quick to recognise the cross-generational popularity of digital animation, reaping box office rewards with Antz (1998). Fox also had a big hit, with Ice Age in 2002.

Disney and Pixar's collaboration, which reached its peak with 2003's Finding Nemo, yielded overall box office takings of around $2.5bn (1.3bn).

But Pixar were unhappy with the terms of their distribution deal, and in January announced they would work with Disney for only two more contracted productions - The Incredibles in 2004 and Cars in 2005.


Now, with the Disney/Pixar partnership in tatters, the studio will have to look elsewhere for digital inspiration, and it will be hard to match the calibre of talent on display at Pixar.

The 2-D business is coming to an end, just like black and white came to an end
Michael Eisner, Disney Chief Executive

Moreover, a number of Disney's recent 2-D animated features, like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Jungle Book 2, have met with indifferent reviews and disappointing box office takings.

It seems the triumphant Pixar collaborations have become vital to Disney's domination of animated features.

As Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner starkly put it: "The 2-D business is coming to an end, just like black and white came to an end."

Yet many animation fans would dispute whether such a long-established and adored art form will disappear, even if it cannot compete in financial terms with digitally-rendered blockbusters.

In 2003, the compelling Belleville Rendezvous and Spirited Away proved that hand-drawn feature-length animation could still make an impact on audiences.

"Even stop-motion animation - whereby miniature models are animated in tiny movements one frame at a time - refuses to disappear, though computers can achieve a similar look with a greater degree of creative freedom.

Ice Age
Fox had a surprise hit with the digitally-created Ice Age

Both Tim Burton's forthcoming Corpse Bride and Nick Park's Curse of the Wererabbit, the new epic featuring animated clay favourites Wallace and Gromit, will use this technique.


Even if Shrek 2 does further signal the demise of 2-D animation, fans of the genre must at least welcome its contribution to animated storytelling.

The film's anarchic humour and willingness to avoid sentimentality are novel for a mainstream animated film.

Even Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., which had sassy scripts and wide adult appeal, still resorted to sentimentality.

Shrek has proved that an ugly, cantankerous anti-hero can still win audiences over, and that young viewers will go for a movie that has a cynical edge.

The animated DreamWorks comedy Shark Tale, released later this year, promises an even darker tone, transposing a story of mafia shenanigans to the undersea world.

It is hard to imagine a day when Disney's classics no longer appeal or when followers of 2-D animation concede its demise.

But what is certain, is that digitally-created features will be a priority for an increasing number of Hollywood studios in coming years.

Shrek 2 opens across the UK on 2 July.

Review: Shrek 2
20 May 04 |  Film
Disney loses top cartoon deal
30 Jan 04 |  Business

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