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Scared Shrekless DVD Review

Scared Shrekless DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Scared Shrekless
Special & DVD Details

Director: Gary Trousdale / Writers: Gary Trousdale, Sean Bishop (screenplay); Claire Morrissey ("The Bride of Gingy"), Robert Porter ("Boots Motel"), Sean Bishop ("The Shreksorcist"); William Steig (book)

Voice Cast: Mike Myers (Shrek), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Kristen Schaal (Sugar), Dean Edwards (Donkey), Cody Cameron (Pinocchio, Three Pigs), Christopher Knights (Blind Mice), Conrad Vernon (Gingerbread Man, Muffin Man), Aron Warner (Wolf), Patty Cornell & Susan Fitzer (Creepy Clockwork Chorus), Sean Bishop (Geppetto, Prince Charming, The Cricket, Dwarves, Waffle)

Original Air Date: October 28, 2010 / Running Time: 25 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Songs List

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned; Thriller Subtitled and Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 13, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase
Also available in Halloween Party DVD Pack ($19.99 SRP), released September 27, 2011

Buy Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space from Amazon.com: Halloween Party DVD Pack with Scared Shrekless Individual DVD

The Shrek franchise offers a fascinating study in oversaturation. The original movie, adapted from William Steig's picture book, was released in 2001 to near-universal acclaim. Animation was an entirely different game then. Disney's unchallenged heyday of the 1990s had definitely passed. Pixar, meanwhile, had thrice succeeded at dazzling audiences with heartwarming CGI.
Shrek, only America's second all-computer-animated movie outside of Pixar, became a rousing success for DreamWorks, the top-grossing film of its year until the holiday season brought the launches of two epic live-action fantasy series, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. It even beat Monsters, Inc. to win the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature, the only time to date DreamWorks has defeated a Pixar film for the award.

That kind of reception could only mean one thing: sequel. DreamWorks quickly went to work on Shrek 2. By the time it was released, on the same May weekend three years later, my appreciation for Shrek had begun to fade, turned off by the ubiquity of it all. The general public did not yet share my sentiment; they made Shrek 2 the third highest-grossing film ever domestically, demonstrating popularity not only beyond the many well-attended franchises then in play (Spider-Man, the Star Wars prequels, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the aforementioned two novel adaptation series) but in the same league as landmark blockbusters like E.T. and the original Star Wars. Shrek was even more popular than Jesus, at least the one in Mel Gibson's graphic drama.

And this is where things started to go south. There was no question that the series would continue and who wouldn't keep using a playbook as successful as Shrek's? Three Mays later, Shrek the Third was released to a cooler reception. By that point, a fourth movie was already in development as were a Broadway musical and a Puss in Boots spin-off movie. A holiday TV special was imminent. In the midst of all this, supply surpassed demand. The lesson was evident in the series-low box office numbers for Shrek Forever After. We could still call it a blockbuster, I guess, but even overlooking inflation and the premium ticket prices of its 3D exhibitions, this final chapter had barely grossed half of what Shrek 2 had earned. A month after Forever's debut, Toy Story 3 opened and ran circles around it. In the eleven years that had passed since Toy Story 2, DreamWorks had released four Shrek movies, burning off much of the good will its flagship universe had once enjoyed.

Shrek questions the veracity of the Gingerbread Man's contribution to the Halloween spooky story contest. Gingy's freshly-baked girlfriend Sugary gets too attached too quickly in "The Bride of Gingy."

We can see similar stories elsewhere, when a favorable reaction inspires the creators or, more accurately, the copyright owners to go wild and give the public more of the characters than they want. Disney is currently doing the same thing with the Pirates of the Caribbean saga and to a smaller degree, their enthusiasm for Lilo & Stitch similarly drowned out the people's. Hastiness and overkill really seems to tarnish the legacy of an original movie. If Pixar had cultivated a Finding Nemo franchise, the 2003 hit might not seem as dear. Whereas patience and moderation served Toy Story well, Cars 2, the closest thing to a kneejerk follow-up at Pixar, will likely remain that studio's least loved film for quite some time.

At DreamWorks Animation, "More!" has been the mantra. It's understandable. Sequels reliably outperform new movies at the box office. There isn't the uncertainty over whether something will connect with audiences. Film is a business and that seems to take precedence over art at DreamWorks, even as the quality of their output continues to rise and rarely falls below satisfactory. Still, I'm hardly alone in wishing more originality found its way into studio slates.

These long-winded ruminations bring us to Scared Shrekless, a Halloween TV special that premiered on NBC last October and recently debuted on DVD. Had this half-hour program materialized any autumn between 2001 and 2006, it likely would have been embraced with open arms. Even the Christmas special Shrek the Halls, which aired on ABC in the wake of Shrek the Third, put up large Nielsen numbers with over 21 million viewers. But the Shrek ship seems to have sailed. Shrekless scared up just over 8 million people, widely trailing a World Series game on Fox and an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS, and only narrowly besting ABC's annual showing of the 44-year-old It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The famous "Psycho" shower scene is sent up with Puss in Boots in "Boots Motel." Shrek tries to settle down an out-of-control Pinocchio in "The Shreksorcist."

Fortunately, diminished audience interest does not reflect reduced effort or entertainment value.
Scared Shrekless offers a fun time with a series of spooky stories told by the characters gathered at Castle Duloc, the eerily abandoned residence of the late Lord Farquaad. Shrek (voiced as always by a handsomely paid Mike Myers) challenges Donkey (Dean Edwards, doing a great Eddie Murphy), Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), and Gingy (Conrad Vernon) to see who can withstand scary tales without being frightened. They take turns sharing clearly fictional anecdotes in an effort to jolt the others.

In "The Bride of Gingy", Gingy tells of how he got the Muffin Man to bake him an extra sweet girlfriend (Kristen Schaal, channeling her obsessive "Flight of the Conchords" character), who then becomes frighteningly attached to him. Donkey and Puss jointly tell "Boots Motel", a story inspired by Psycho and involving a giant donkey-eating waffle. Then, Shrek tells "The Shreksorcist", a variation on The Exorcist in which the demonic youth is none other than Pinocchio.

The reliance on cultural references is much in line with the Shrek universe and horror movies are an appropriate shift from the old fairy tale targets. While recognition of the source movies definitely enhances your appreciation of these tales, it is not essential to enjoyment. The cartoons mostly strike the right tone, especially Gingy's, which might be unsettling if it didn't involve anthropomorphic cookies. Shrek takes somewhat of a backstage to his more comedy-driven friends/nuisances and that works well. Fiona (still voiced by Cameron Diaz) appears only briefly, along with their three mischievous young children. The special works as a coherent whole, which it was clearly designed to be, as opposed to standalone shorts with some linking material.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Scared Shrekless is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. It boasts polish comparable to the films, which is surprising since those are made expensively in anticipation of hundreds of millions of dollars in theatrical tickets and home video sales, and this was merely meant to kick off one of NBC's countless Thursday comedy nights. The picture quality is as good as standard definition gets and the soundtrack does quite a bit more than your typical comedy TV broadcast.

Donkey leads an undead dance in Shrek's tribute to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Antonio Banderas sings "These Boots Are Made for Walking" as Puss in Boots in a random music video included.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The main extra here is what the cover touts as "A Shrek-ed Out Parody of Michael Jackson's Thriller." This never-before-seen 6-minute, 7-second short is every bit as enjoyable as the feature presentation
and even more so if you're a big fan of the early '80s song and its iconic music video. Bummed to be spending Halloween night at a special screening of The Music with Sound (a The Sound of Music parody, naturally), Shrek ventures outside only to be surrounded by the franchise's deceased characters rising from their graves. Donkey handles the lyrics and leads the zombie dance, while Puss in Boots supplies narration la Vincent Price.

While the prospect of Shrek characters parodying "Thriller" in 2011 sounds none too promising, this is done well and memorably. It's also quite a revelation as to how many characters the Shrek movies have killed off. Gary Trousdale directed both this and Scared Shrekless and is more than qualified for such work, having co-directed such Disney films as Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This short demonstrates the replaceability of the star voice actors, as Michael Gough, Dean Edwards, Holly Fields, and Andre Sogliuzzo take over the roles of Myers, Murphy, Diaz, and Banderas without me even noticing the difference.

Instead of calling it a day there, the DVD also includes Puss in Boots' "These Boots Are Made for Walking" music video (2:17) from the Shrek 2 DVD, which alternates between original animation and footage of Antonio Banderas recording the song.

Speaking of Puss, his forthcoming spin-off movie is previewed in the first of two full trailers with which the disc opens. The second promotes the home video-bound Kung Fu Panda 2. They're each also accessible from a Previews menu.

Still more promotion is to be had in the obligatory World of DreamWorks Animation SKG section, which offers a music video and DVD trailer for Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Megamind plus an ad for Kung Fu Panda World. With disc space to spare, including such marketing materials is savvy, but overuse has robbed the feature of its luster.

The main menu subtly enlarges and deflates a static, smiling Shrek holding a jack-o-lantern of candy and animated creepy crawlies, which also make up the cursor icons. Don't study it too long, though, or else the title attraction will start playing. Other menus are static but scored.

No special touches go to packaging. The plain gray disc is held in an uncut black Eco-Box case with no slipcovers or inserts. The Halloween Party DVD Pack edition adds a disposable cardboard sheet atop the side-by-side bundle with Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space.

The "Scared Shrekless" DVD main menu. Happy Halloween from Shrek and friends -- don't ogre-eat!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though not too substantial or likely to be heralded as a Halloween classic like It's the Great Pumpkin, I think it's safe to call Scared Shrekless the franchise's most enjoyable work since Shrek 2. This special sets aside the franchise's usual calculated emotional palette to simply have fun in short rifts on classic horror tales. It's worth seeing, though it is ironic that this didn't get included on last year's "The Whole Story" collections. A disc with this, Shrek the Halls, and Shrek 3-D would really be ideal for Shrek fans and collectors. Since that isn't offered, you're left choosing between not seeing it at all or settling for this.

Buy Scared Shrekless from Amazon.com: On Its Own / With Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space

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Related Reviews:
Shrek the Halls Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space The Penguins of Madagascar: I Was a Penguin Zombie
DreamWorks Films: Shrek the Third Kung Fu Panda Megamind Bee Movie Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
New: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Zookeeper Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory The Lion King
Directed by Gary Trousdale: Beauty and the Beast The Hunchback of Notre Dame Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting - Party at Disneyland Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat
Halloween Episodes: The Simpsons: Season 13 Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Season 3 Home Improvement: Season 3

Scared Shrekless Songs List (in order of use): Patty Cornell & Susan Fitzer - "Welcome to Duloc", The Turtles - "Happy Together", "Symphony Fantastique, op. 14", Rene Garza Aldape & Alejandro Valencia - "The Murder" from Psycho, "Brahm's Lullaby"

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Reviewed October 20, 2011.



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