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20-Minute Review - Shrek (2001)

Written: 07/15/2020

Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson

Genre - Animation/Comedy

Runtime – 1h 35m and 1h 45m, respectively

Motifs – Identifying and Accepting Oneself

Content Warning – Shrek...just Shrek


Shrek (2001) and its first sequel Shrek 2 (2004) are wonderfully wholesome films about an ogre and a talkative donkey go on a quest to save a princess from a topmost tower in a castle surrounded by lava guarded by a dragon after a group of characters from Western folktales invade his swampy home. Somehow, this premise got through the usual production barriers of having a logical story with familiar characters. But what Andrew Adamson and his team of writers have accomplished here is nothing short of heart-warming as we see the initially horrifying ogre grow to love a side of himself he had never experienced.

Shrek is a character who initially thrives in the isolation provided to him by his swampy abode and his “ogre-ish” personality. But, after being forced into social situations - meeting friendly people, falling in love, etc. - we see Shrek come out of the husk that protects the onion-y layers of his being.

I must acknowledge two critical facts about the film that have helped deepen narrative complexity of a film even as its audiences grow into adulthood: 1) Comparisons and oppositions to other nostalgic childhood works from institutions like Disney, and 2) memes.

First, Shrek embodies a cynical criticism of Disney stemming from the people who started Dreamworks. From it’s comparison between Shrek and other Disney protagonists to the treatment of Fiona as the princess of the film, it becomes clear this is not a fairy tale rooted in a depth not usually given in these types of stories. This criticism and the unique ways in which the criticism is presented have imprinted on a young generation of individuals a cinematic feeling of growth. As we aged from children to teenagers to adults, the meaning of Shrek and its pertinence on how we identify ourselves deepens. It may seem obvious since we become more cognitively complex; however, I posit the lessons learned as children do not change meanings over time. Rather, they can be repurposed for adult consumption - the “being yourself” narrative of the film becomes a more culturally profound version of “self-love” narratives of today. Up until this point, we, as children, did not have many stories that featured a flawed character who grows into the more traditional protagonists we were used to seeing in Disney folktales.

Second, the resurgence of Shrek in popular culture stems almost entirely to content creators on the internet. Rewatching this film as an adult, one finds themselves witnessing the story again, but now the context of certain scenes and characters become more comical as new meanings from memes can be imposed onto Shrek’s text. Intertextually speaking, the narrative of Shrek has been immortalized in ways its creators did not expect - a thriving community of comedians distorting and recreating the film in a variety of unintended ways.

With new meanings ascribed through the natural aging of Shrek’s audience and through the meme-ification of the narrative, Shrek continues to delight audiences today. Regardless of what meanings an audience member attributes the text of Shrek, the film is very competently made - a story meant to elicit young peoples to learn about our “layers” as individuals and discover the compassion that lies at the heart of our onions.

Score - 9/10

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