Movie Review: Does ‘Shrek’ Hold Up?
It’s around 12 years since Shrek first entered the lives of cinema goers, long enough for it to be viewed as a nostalgic childhood staple for people in their 20’s. Even through the murky vision caused by the increasingly sub-par sequels and merchandise the original is kept on a pedestal. When we strip the disappointment of the most recent two films and the fucking creepiness of that talking egg in the Puss in Boots movie away is the original still the game changer it once was?
Um…not so much.
Whoa, put away the torches and pitchforks and let me speak. If you don’t like what I say the comments section is open for you. Having recently rewatched Shrek for the first time in about a decade along with Funk Jr (who got bored halfway through) I’ve identified a number of reasons why the movie doesn’t quite hold up.
The over-arching problem is that the movie came from a fairly cynical place to begin with. Jeffrey Katzenberg was the driving force behind the film and his inspiration for the movie was his departure from Disney. Shrek was created as an attack on Disney CEO Michael Eisner with the villain bearing a strong resemblance to the man and his kingdom looking a lot like Disneyland (complete with animatronics and mascots). The result is a large number of creative decisions in the movie came not from a need to entertain but insult. Lord Farquaard’s hang up on his size, the look of the kingdom and the design of the characters all played into Katzenberg’s desire to stick it to Disney.
When you dig out the source material for Shrek, the book by William Steig, you’ll find quite a few difference between it and the film. The children’s picture book is a subverted fairy tale, telling the story of a young ogre who sets out to find a princess. On the way he faces dragons, knights and more but generally does away with them using fire breath. When he meets the princess he discovers that not only is she as ugly as he but enjoys being horrible to people just as much as he does. It’s this common interest that they bond over and they get married. The movie has echoes of this notion but it’s more of a children’s film for the MTV generation. Steig’s book is a satire of fairy tale’s while the movie is a parody, which doesn’t hold up over time as effectively. It’s also packed with rock songs and pop cultural references that have limited long term potential.
After a few minutes into the movie it is quite clear that the animation in the movie is looking a bit dated. It would be foolish to hold this against the film, as it’s a product of the technology that was available at the time. How that technology is use can be counted against it though. The majority of the directing in the film is bland, flat shots interspersed with the occasional grand, sweeping scenery shot that occur with such routine that you could set your watch by it. A movie like WALL-E or How to Train Your Dragon will likely endure longer because the direction behind them is fantastic. The sequences showing WALL-E and EVE dancing through space or the time Toothless rests his nuzzle against Hiccup’s hand will always tug the heartstrings while Shrek running away from the dragon only piqued interest the first time.
Looking past all these issues the humor and the story should be enough to carry us through, right? Shrek certainly was a game changer in that it produced a ‘Disney-fied’ kids film with a snarky attitude. It was something different at the time but much of that humor doesn’t hold up in the modern context. Some of it is just unpleasant, like inflating the animals as balloons, exploding the songbird and the donkey’s constant nattering. Much of it is still amusing, but some of it was never that good to begin with. Why is Robin Hood French, anyway?
The close of the movie sees a parody of the conclusion to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, switching out the idea that only beautiful people get happy endings by revealing the princesses ‘true form’ as being that of an ogre. Looking back, one begins to wonder if maybe Disney actually had the better moral. In the classic tale Beauty and the Beast there can be some accusations of Stockholm Syndrome, and the like, open to cynics, but the basic story is of a prince whose shallow and materialistic outlook led to his downfall. It isn’t until he learns to see true beauty that he is redeemed. Shrek, on the other hand, doesn’t have any redemption at the end of his story. Instead his negative view of the world is enforced when the previously unobtainable princess has her social status reduced until she is a more fitting fit for the ‘hero’.
Shrek was certainly a game changing slice of family entertainment when it was released, throwing Disney’s soppy sentimentality back in Mickey’s face and giving us a fairy tale with attitude. The series would be improved with the addition of a swashbuckling Puss in Boots but would slip into pop culture parodies and gimmicky scripts. For all it’s snarky humour and Disney parody it doesn’t hold up against more heartfelt fare like The Incredible or The Muppets.
Looking for something to show your kids? Here’s Funk Jr’s Favourite Movies.