In response to the Guardian’s Shrek hit piece
How 20 years have aged the Ogre well
My respect for the Guardian has all but gone. Even though they have produced some absolute abysmal articles in the past, I always thought they were rather unbiased and their work helped a lot with my English Language A-Level. But if you come after the King, you better make sure you don’t miss. And oh boy, how they have missed. You may wonder, did they make any interesting points to back their claims? No, they didn’t, and the click-bait article was rightly lambasted by twitter users upon its publication. That isn’t enough, though, and it must be dissected and ridiculed for good measure.
The article begins by attempting to show the hypocrisy of Shrek using modern plumbing in his outhouse, compared to living in a swamp and bathing in mud. In a world where the Kingdom of Far Far Away is designed after Beverly Hills, a donkey has babies with a dragon and there is a cat assassin equipped with a blade. Kids films make no sense, because children are not concerned with continuity or plot holes, they like silly humour and bright colours. The genie in Aladdin, a film set over at least 100 years ago, does a Robert de Niro impersonation, and features a flying carpet. That is the beauty of animated fairytales — they exist in a separate universe, where our history and customs can be ignored to tell a fantastical tale.
Speaking of which, how did Shrek ruin these animated classics? They reference him “wiping his ass” with a happily ever after, and the flushing sound signalling their brazen attitude towards older films like Cinderella and Rapunzel. However, the film does not ridicule these princesses, and even in the later films, which the author labels “terrible movies”, it takes them from being damsels in distress, to being able to fight for themselves, something which Disney has only just started introducing in their subsequent original princess stories, such as Moana and Brave. Even Mulan, after all her fighting for the army and saving China, is treated like a princess by marrying the general. That is another important tradition Shrek broke.
For a while, Disney were the only major studio releasing animated kids films. Whilst Pixar began the quiet revolution of moving away from fairytale storytelling, Shrek was arguably the catalyst of putting twists on the traditional fantastical plot. How many Disney films does this sound like? -
- Prince/Princess love/long for each other from afar
- There is a “problem” meaning they can’t be together
- For a while, they get around this problem
- About 20–30 minutes to go, a complication means they cannot be together
- They eventually find a way to be together, live happily ever after, etc.
Shrek broke this mould, by making the characters go from hating each other to falling in love naturally, and including some important lessons on the way. The theme of loving yourself, empowering females, and ignoring societal pressures of perfection are plain to see, but are not crammed down your throat like other animated classics. So, the author stating the story was a “woe-is-me tale” fails to capture the lessons learnt, maybe since they have not learnt them themselves….
Another area of criticism the author targets at the ogre flick is its use of the fantastical world. It highlights things such as the film’s opening, where we see the magical creatures pleading with Shrek to help them as the only real time we see classic stories incorporated into the Shrek universe. They cite this as a negative, arguing that since they have access to the rights to use these fantasy characters, they should utilise them fully, like how Wreck-It-Ralph did. However, particularly in the first film, they avoid overusing the fantastical characters, so their original ones are developed deeply, allowing them to use the IP to develop them further in the future instalments. Plus the fact, Wreck-It-Ralph is a pretty mediocre film, which over-uses the intellectual property to the point where its more focused on that then the central protagonists.
The fact that the author thinks Wreck-It-Ralph is a good film speaks volumes. It could also explain their ineptitude to do research on Shrek’s peers. The article states that Shrek paved the way for big name celebrities to work on animated films, delivering “committee-polished one liners”. That’s weird, since the Disney fairytales they love so much that released prior to Shrek, such as Aladdin, Pocahontas and Mulan, had A-list stars in Mel Gibson, Whoopi Goldberg and Shrek’s own Eddie Murphy all working arguably at their peak. So to argue that Dreamworks created the rush of A-list celebrities reading pre-prepared lines is a false narrative.
Finally, the author challenges the humour and appeal of Shrek. They believe it is lined with childish humour such as fart jokes, whilst adults can pick up on the more subtle crude jokes by the filmmaker, with the pendulum swinging more towards the latter than the former. Disney had attempted to find a balance in their 90s run of classics, but every film seemed to merge its humour into having inanimate objects and sidekicks being stupid. Shrek delicately manages to balance both interests, creating a film which delights children, whilst also keeping adults engaged enough to follow the plot without falling asleep. This led more animated kids films to take this route, and cinema is all the better for it.
So, where does that leave us? The author clearly does not realise the impact this film had, whether it is on those who watched it growing up, or on animated cinema as a whole. Whilst it is certainly not a cinematic epic worthy of awards and to be called the greatest animated classic, it is certainly up there as a shining jewel in Dreamworks’s crown, and should not be dragged through the dirt by those who enjoy mediocre slop like Wreck-It-Ralph. The film has aged well, and will continue to for a long time.