Actually, Shrek is a timeless masterpiece and you can’t tell me otherwise
Shrek is love, Shrek is life – and that’s never changing
Today, Shrek turns 20. A cause for celebration, merriment and reflection – as all birthdays should be. Instead, a browse of the morning headlines today made the blood that pumps through my ogre-loving veins run cold.
The Guardian rinses Shrek for juvenile humour, “sassy CGI animals” and influencing an influx of shit animation. It did indeed influence a barrage of less than great wannabes, but the reason it did so is because it really is bloody good.
It’s an audacious statement to kick off the day as the world reflects on two decades of Shrek. And, actually, not only is it audacious – it’s just plain wrong. And here’s why.
Shrek at 20: A hilariously funny and celebrated high for blockbuster animation
When Shrek hit the cinemas 20 years ago today, the world fell in love with Mike Myers’ cantankerous Scottish ogre. The moment we heard that opening “someBODY once told ME!” of All Star by Smash Mouth, there was that feeling in the cinema that we were about to witness history unfold.
Shrek had it all. The concept alone just felt so vibrant and irreverent in the animated landscape. A film rooted in fairytale mythology that turned everything you knew about those worlds on its head whilst still utilising what makes fairytales so timeless. The villains became the heroes and the heroes were the villains. The ogre the villagers feared and raised pitchforks at was harmless and the ruler of the land was advocating for mass genocide of anyone that didn’t look like him, but the morals remained the same. True love’s first kiss and happily ever after remain the focal point – and when Princess Fiona chooses Shrek over Farquaad and transforms permanently into the ogre form she always tried to hide, it was a huge win for viewers who felt like an outcast and it had a great message about loving yourself no matter who you are.
The animation was literally stunning
Okay, it was 2o01. If you put on Shrek expecting James Cameron’s Avatar, that’s on you.
Claiming Dreamworks’ megahit had “shoddy animation” is a reach to say the least. It remains, even by today’s standard, a gorgeous film. Its vibrant colour palette is always popping, whether we’re watching Shrek and Donkey roam meadows, the city of DuLoc or the fiery lava coated depths of the dragon’s keep. Every shot of Shrek could be a painting in The Louvre. A cinematic beauty and that’s the end of the matter.
If laughing at toilet humour is wrong, I don’t want to be right
To flush away Shrek’s witty script as “toilet humour” is such a disservice that it should be criminalised. The comedy comes thick and fast and never stops. The Blind Date style presentation that the Magic Mirror does for Lord Farquaad. Thelonious saying “pick number three, my lord!” whilst only holding up two fingers. The DuLoc puppet song and then the picture it takes of Shrek and Donkey’s reaction. Lord Farquaad’s torturous interrogation of the Gingerbread Man (“Not the gumdrop buttons!”).
The entire setting and world of Dreamworks created is funny. Every fairytale Easter egg, every story it turns on its head. If you can’t see past a fart joke, I don’t know what to tell you.
The soundtrack should get a Shrek-themed club night
Just let it sink in for a moment that it contains All Star, Hallelujah, Bad Reputation and I’m a Believer ALL. IN. ONE. FILM.
Then add in the song the DuLoc puppets do (“Shine your shoes, wipe your… face!”), Monsieur Hood’s obnoxious attack theme tune and the song Fiona belts out when she wants to murder some birds and you’ve got yourself a one way ticket to bop city.
AND that’s before we get bonus, post-credits classic: Shrek-in-the-Swamp Karaoke Party. We literally got to witness Shrek and Fiona sing Like A Virgin by Madonna to each other. I’ve still not recovered.
It literally birthed Shrek 2
The best sequel to any film ever. Shrek and Shrek 2 are to animation what Alien/Aliens is to science fiction. Shrek 2 is bigger, bolder and better. The jokes are funnier, the plot is juicier, the villains are eviller and there’s a quotable line shoved into every minute of it.
And whilst Shrek 2 reigns supreme; it wouldn’t exist if not for the cinematic excellence that is the original.
Okay, fair play, Shrek the Third is shite
Shrek and Shrek 2’s excellence also sadly gave us Shr*k 3. The less said the better on that one, but you can’t win ’em all.
OGRES have LAYERS
Shrek is deep, bro. Princess Fiona spends the entire film proving she’s no damsel in distress, Donkey overcomes being unliked to show that even though he’s small he’s as brave and gallant as a noble steed and our titular ogre melts from reluctant hero to romantic lead.
There’s jokes for kids, who are just happy to be there watching a big green thing with funny ears romp about a bit and then there’s the clever laughs and references for the adults. In the same world as Toy Story, Shrek is a family film that never patronises its audiences.
It was, and still is, a global cultural phenomenon
Merchandise. Sequels. Spin offs. Theme park rides. Weird and unsettling viral videos.
There were more Shrek toys than you could comprehend on every toy aisle in the country. Personally, I owned a Far Far Away castle playset and a Princess Fiona giant plush doll I won on a grabber at Alton Towers.
There was a time where Shrek was sort of like the film equivalent of Mario. The video games did it all. Fancy an ogre version of Mario Kart? Shrek Swamp Kart Speedway. Super Smash Bros? More like Shrek SuperSlam. Mario Party? SHREK SUPER PARTY.
Loads of shit franchises get endless merchandise deals, and perhaps with theme park rides and video game tie ins, Shrek could have become that. But here we are, 20 years on, still making a load of Shrek themed TikToks and Instagram filters.
You don’t see anyone doing that for Avatar, do you?
The point here is, Shrek’s domination didn’t get to this stage by being an undeserving hit. Some naff kids film that just happened to get lucky. It got to the place it did by being a stone cold swampy classic. It had the biggest names in Hollywood lining up to voice a lead role or just have a cameo appearance.
A film where the unlikeliest misfits got their chance to be heroes. Its wit, its animation and its uncanny grip and blend of fairytale folklore and pop culture made it the kind of phenomenon that our generation will be so excited to show our kids and get them to love it as much as we all do.
So leave Shrek alone. It’s its birthday, for god’s sake.
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