Reconsidering Shrek: A cultural phenomenon

Ah, Shrek; the Ready Salted crisps of a DVD collection. This is in the sense that both products are naively disregarded as ‘boring’ when one is an uncultured child; it is not until one is older that they acquire the maturity needed to fully appreciate these godsends.

A critic once remarked this film isn’t really interesting unless you find Shrek and Donkey arguing like an old married couple entertaining. I do share some sympathy with this view, having always preferred Shrek 2 to its predecessor in terms of sheer entertainment value. Although, Shrek itself does outshine its successor in being thematic. There are so many themes that to be explored, giving it high ‘meme-potential’. While a fun 8/10, enjoyable flick to watch as a child, it is even more enjoyable to watch when older. 

For younger viewers, it is still a fun watch; They see Donkey (whom at their age will more likely relate to) off on an adventure with the main character. Viewers of all ages will appreciate what might be the greatest scene ever put to the screen; Shrek, having arrived in Duloc, takes on an entire army at once.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something so satisfying about this scene. Perhaps my keenness for the scene is because of how well it demonstrates the lead characters’… ‘inner spirit’. Throughout the film, there are several other excitement-filled scenes like this; getting past the dragon to rescue Fiona, fighting off Robin Hood and the final wedding battle just to mention a few. 

For older viewers, the film is symbolic and holds a special place in our hearts; a cinematic bible of the early 21st century that we were raised on, and a childhood favourite we’ll all be quoting even during our mid-life crises. Art; that is what this film is. (Yes, I acknowledge it sounds as though this articles’ writer has had their head disappear up their own backside right now). However, if we define art as a form of expressive communication open to many interpretations, Shrek most certainly matches that criterion.

Shrek, while only 95 minutes’ worth of content, can offspring hours’ worth of conversation and debate. You could develop philosophies, ideologies, and even write essays on Shrek if your sad enough to (which I say from a somewhat hypocritical position considering I have just written this review on it). The vast majority of the film, as I have mentioned earlier, is a dialogue between the titular character and his sidekick which viewers may find uninteresting. Although, in reality, it’s much more than that.  We see two outcasts relate over the prejudice they’ve experienced throughout their lives and come to form a friendship.

If I can recollect correctly, and act as a primary historian in doing so; I pinpoint the resurgence of the film’s popularity to a little while back in 2014. This is when an evidently ‘troubled’ person, to put it politely, created and published a video online titled ‘Shrek is love, Shrek is life’, I will opt not to go into vivid detail of what its contents are. Anyway, I digress. This rebirthed an interest in the film and led to many adolescents who had watched it as children, choosing to see it again. This time they considered themselves to be ‘ironic viewers’, who were only watching it to subversively mock it.

It’s a film we admire for its all-around cynicism. The film has a general message of ‘to hell with what society thinks’, or as spoken early on in the film by Donkey “But do you know, what I like about you, Shrek? You’ve got that kind of: ‘I don’t care what nobody thinks of me’ thing”. The film has layers to it (no reference to the ‘ogres are like onions’ scene intended). Shrek isn’t a hero; he just wants his swamp back and doesn’t actually care about the fairyland creatures having their home returned by Lord Farquaad, and it’s somewhat admirable. It’s nice to see a self-serving, opportunistic prat, at least being upfront about how he doesn’t look out for anyone but himself. Shrek is at least better than all the selfish gits who are too conceited to realise they’re selfish gits (*cough cough* Lord Farquaad: “some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make”).

The one part of this film I must fault is the misunderstanding trope. Whereby Shrek mishears Fiona talking to Donkey about herself and instead believes them to be mocking him behind his back. This part of the film may leave you with an irresistible urge to blow your brains out. It’s so frustrating to watch that it mentally hurts. However, this is but a minor hiccup in an otherwise flawless film.

Unlike Disney, who would rather indoctrinate generations to come that physical attractiveness equates to moral virtue, Shrek refusing to partake in this ‘sick’ message is what propels it to greatness.  Shrek is a timeless tale of antiestablishmentarianism and an overall phenomenal film.