I guess when it comes to holiday programming, you could say that I'm fairly old fashioned. The classics that I grew up with when there weren't as many television options became yearly traditions--by familiarity, if not always quality. Today, with hundreds of stations to select from, kids can be more choosy. And yet, I'm still rarely blown away by the options presented. When Dreamworks, therefore, adopted two of its film franchises into new Halloween spectaculars--I was a bit skeptical. The original "Shrek" was one of my all time beloved movies although the series was beginning to show wear, while "Monsters vs Aliens" may have had its moments but it wasn't a particular favorite of mine. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these two brief specials. "Scared Shrekless" and "Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins From Outer Space" can be purchased individually, but certainly qualify as a better deal in a combination pack if you want both. Note: These aired as 30 minutes specials with commercials--so approximate running times are about 22 minutes each if that makes a difference in your buying choice.
In "Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins From Outer Space," Susan (Reese Witherspoon) and her team of wacky cohorts are now government operatives. Near Halloween, an alien presence is detected in Susan's hometown and the crew is dispatched. While everything appears calm, soon innocent jack-o-lanterns are revealed to be nefarious aliens with a cunning plot to take over the world. Fast and funny, with plenty of gourd guts, this showdown is well orchestrated and gives every member of the team a chance to shine. The addition of Susan's family adds some amusement--obviously, their little girl isn't so little anymore. Fun for the little ones, it is still engaging to older audiences with sly references to Gremlins, Psycho, Halloween and other genre classics and in-jokes. Truthfully, I enjoyed this twenty-two minutes of mayhem more than I did the entire feature film. By cutting out the extraneous plotting, they've devised a tight and economical comedy special that really delivers and has heart as well.
In "Scared Shrekless," the ogre family and their friends are enjoying Shrek's favorite holiday--you guessed it, Halloween! A wager is set forth in which everyone will tell a creepy tale and the last to get scared wins! Then the individual narratives unfold (kind of like a Simpson's Treehouse of Terrors) and classic horror stories get a decidedly unique spin through the land of fairy tales. The program uses the familiar characters to excellent affect and (despite the absence of Eddie Murphy) these two-dimensional creations display remarkable life. The horror parodies are spot-on (I won't spoil anything here) and hilarious. Still creepy, though, this definitely plays well to an older audience. Young kids, as in every "Shrek," will miss the in-jokes and cultural references but should still enjoy the manic pacing. I've got to tell you, I quite loved this special. To me, it was more engaging than the Christmas themed "Shrek The Halls." Still funny, the "Shrek" franchise has survived on showcasing the strength of having a strong circle of family and friends--and that certainly shines here too amidst the lunacy. KGHarris, 6/11.