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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2007

'Shrek the Halls' a high-quality, lively addition to holiday shows


It was only a matter of time before the most popular green ogre in history would lumber over from feature films to TV, and at 8 tonight viewers can see the results when a 30-minute Christmas special called Shrek the Halls airs on ABC.

The lively tale features the same high-quality animation and celebrity voices that have become familiar to moviegoers in the three hugely popular Shrek theatrical releases: Mike Myers as Shrek, Eddie Murphy as Donkey, Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona, and Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots.

DreamWorks Animation's most successful franchise ever, the Shrek series began with the Oscar-winning feature, Shrek (2001), based on a popular children's book by William Steig. A sequel, Shrek 2 (2004), was even more successful, practically doubling the box office take of the original to become the third highest-grossing film of all time.

The latest installment, Shrek the Third (2007), though not as original or fun as the first two, nevertheless scored the biggest opening weekend ever for an animated film and has grossed nearly $800 million worldwide in box office receipts. And Shrek the Halls is airing just after the release of the latest Shrek movie on DVD, a nice bit of timing that's sure to boost holiday sales of the DVD.

The TV special tells a pretty simple story. Christmas is fast approaching, but since ogres don't do Christmas, Shrek couldn't care less. But when his wife, Fiona, suggests it would be nice to have a quiet celebration with their three adorable baby ogres (Can ogres be adorable? Trust me, in this case they are), Shrek relents and tries to get into the holiday spirit.

The family's plans for a relaxing holiday are dashed with the unexpected Christmas Eve arrival of Donkey, along with a whole gaggle of creatures from the Shrek movies. In no time, there's a party going on, decorations are being hung - the Three Blind Mice help out by nailing stockings to Pinocchio's legs - everybody's dancing, and the Christmas tree is set ablaze.

When Shrek tries to tell his kids the story of "The Night before Christmas," he's upstaged by Donkey and other guests, each of whom has a zany version of the tale. The weirdest is from Gingerbread Man, whose story plays out like a Stephen King novella, with a giant, scary, cookie-hungry Santa Claus gobbling up Mr. Gingerbread's unlucky girlfriend.

Parents who watch the program with little ones might have some explaining to do after that scene.

Like the Shrek movies, Shrek the Halls is a nice blend of sight gags, sentimentality, and clever humor that works on more than one level. ABC is already calling it "an instant classic." That may be a stretch, and it could be a long time, if ever, before it attains the stature of A Charlie Brown Christmas or the tale of the Grinch and his pals in Whoville.

Still, for those who find the grumpy green ogre irresistible - and the box office numbers suggest that a lot of people do - Shrek the Halls will be a tasty holiday treat. And it's followed on ABC at 8:30 p.m. by a genuine classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The Shrek special will also be repeated at 8 p.m. Dec. 11.

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