In Defense Of Shrek8 August 2016
Shrek: it’s not ogre. It’s never ogre.
A little while ago I wrote about how Shia Labeouf’s artistic integrity has been undermined by his status as a meme. This got me thinking, how many other artists or cinematic masterpieces have been taken advantage of by meme creators. Names from Rick Astley to Demi Lovato came to mind but one stood out above all the rest.
Shrek, everyone’s favourite comedy that twists boundaries of typical fantasy films, has been marred by the disturbing yet viral meme of “Shrek is love, Shrek is life”. Because the Internet is a dark and sinister place.
When I was shown this video, the image of one of my favourite animated characters was shattered forever and my innocence taken too soon. Shrek, a film series that I loved, was forever compromised. So I came to accept its status as a meme. Making jokes that “Shrek is love, Shrek is life” and that “it’s never ogre” to dull the pain and heartbreak over what had become of Shrek.
But all of this recently changed when I watched Shrek and Shrek 2 again, and was reminded of the cinematic brilliance of these films. Shrek managed to appeal to children and adults through its fantastic world, clever characters, the occasional sneaky inappropriate joke and of course the dramatic musical montages. Shrek is so much more than a meme. Shrek is a reminder to never judge a book by its cover and always see the best in people. It’s a film series that subverts not only literary stereotypes but also gender and beauty norms. Shrek embraces the fact that something great can be created from a completely ridiculous idea. It also had a killer soundtrack and some brilliant lines.
Shrek is love and Shrek is life, but in ways so much more important than those that the gratuitous meme suggests. Justice is needed for Shrek, because these films are so much more than the meme that they have become.
Shrek was all about subverting the status quo and making the audience question how they may often judge a book by its cover. This metaphor is quite literally represented at the beginning of each film as an ornate book, opened and read like a typical fairytale. But Shrek’s narration soon dispels this majestic tale and viewers quickly find themselves watching the morning routine of a grumpy ogre in his swamp.
In any other fairytale or traditional kids movie, the ugly green ogre would be the villain, which is exactly what this “Shrek is love, Shrek is life” meme has made him! Even after four films and a Christmas special combatting harmful stereotypes, Shrek still fights discrimination in the form of his own meme. Shrek is a character who struggles with his own emotions, and isolates himself because society had shunned him and pushed him away. But when he meets characters like Donkey and Fiona, who are equally as plagued by their stereotypes, Shrek learns to accept his own flaws and strengths by recognising the inner worth and beauty of others. He can then see his own worth as the hero of the story, rather than the villain that he has always been portrayed as.
Fiona completely dispels any misconceptions of the passive princess trope when she shows off her amazing fighting skills against Robin Hood and his gang of minstrels. Similarly we see her attack Prince Charming after he attempts to smuggle a love potion into her tea in Shrek 2 and lead a rebellion in Shrek 4. Fiona is an example of a strong female character, able to stand up for herself and fight in ways that would typically be considered masculine.
But what is so important about Fiona’s character is that the films don’t ignore or degrade any of her qualities that are considered typically feminine. Fiona’s concern over her appearance, more importantly the fact that she turns into an ogre every night, is significant in that it presents the ways in which so many girls are pressured by society to uphold a certain standard of beauty. Fiona also has three children and is excited by the prospect of being a mother. This is important because Fiona is depicted as a female character who is a strong fighter, a well-mannered princess and also a successful mother. In an industry where female characters have so often portrayed as secondary characters defined by their beauty, or as strong warriors who are unable to be both feminine and strong, Fiona is a well-rounded character who represents an eclectic mix of traits that are representative of real women.
Characters like Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming show how beauty on the outside does not necessarily equal beauty on the inside. Where Charming seeks to change Fiona’s appearance and trick her into loving him, Shrek loves Fiona just the way she is. The juxtaposition between Charming and Shrek demonstrates the way in which outward attractiveness and someone’s status within society is not what matters the most, but their heart that is most important.
The Best Movie Soundtrack Ever
Shrek undeniably has one of the best soundtracks ever. It’s not even so much about the songs or bands that are used but the way that music is interwoven within the film. Music is cleverly used in Shrek to reflect the mood of a particular moment in comical and ironic ways. Take, for example, what I like to call the ‘Holding Out For a Hero’ sequence.
This is one of my favourite moments in any movie ever. The song choice is so perfect and supports the action going on in the scene fantastically. The way Fiona and Charming’s dance is interwoven with Shrek and friends breaking into the castle is made possible by the particular choice of song and allows for a riveting climax to the action. More importantly the song, ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ offers an ironic commentary on many of the stereotypes that the film series subverts. Shrek is never seen as the hero but in this scene, he is depicted as the dashing knight on his way to save the princess. Of course, Fairy Godmother is actually singing this song in relation to her son Prince Charming, who would usually be see as the hero who saves the princess, but is actually the villain. The particular song is made even more ironic as Fiona doesn’t even need a hero to save her in the end, she just knocks Charming out herself and decides her own fate.
Another of Shrek’s best musical moments is in the original film, when ‘Hallelujah’ plays over a montage of sadness and despair. The song perfectly encapsulates Fiona and Shrek’s sadness over the fact that they have lost each other and don’t feel as though they can ever be together. We also see how Donkey and Dragon bond over their sadness at how the situation has panned out. This is a moving sequence that is really heightened by the choice of music. Music is incorporated in Shrek to support a wide range of emotions and scenes in a way that heightens the caliber of the film and captures the viewers’ attention.
The entire concept of Shrek and the way that it is written is just brilliant. Not only is it a comedic film that appeals to both adults and children, but it touches on a number of much deeper topics through an exploration of the character’s emotions and experiences.
The idea of being true to yourself is at the heart of the series. In Shrek 2 we see Shrek offer to give up his life as an ogre in his swamp for one of castles and elegance. But Fiona responds that all she wants to do is live happily ever after “with the ogre I married”, proving to audiences that everyone should be valued for who they are inside. The idea of living happily ever after is a central idea in each of the Shrek films, and each time it is proven that happily ever after isn’t what stories tell you it should be but rather what you make it. Living happily ever after isn’t an objective concept but one that the individual determines.
The comedy in the Shrek films is also on point. It isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself as the whole point of each film is to satirise typical fairytale tropes. Donkey undeniably had some of the best moments, like this one in Shrek 2 when he proceeds to embody every third-wheel, annoying pet or child that you’ve ever had to take a road-trip with.
It would have been so easy to show a quick montage of the trip to Far Far Away but instead the creators cleverly utilized this moment to add more comedic moments and highlight the relationship between Shrek, Fiona and Donkey. Little details like naming the Kingdom ‘Far Far Away’ are also clever in the way that they poke fun at the fairytale trope of Kingdoms seeming to exist far away from any other kind of civilisation.
Shrek has been reduced to a meme in recent years, and I think people have begun to forget about its merit as an actual series of films and what these movies really meant. Shrek represented a variety of characters that never conformed to stereotypes, and were complex and three dimensional in nature. It included a brilliant soundtrack full of songs that were integral to the creation of each film. The incredible writing and crafting of characters also meant that Shrek could appeal to a wide audience and present ideas in a funny and ironic way.
Shrek is so much more than a meme and I urge people to remember that. Next time you see something to do with “shrek is love, shrek is life” pop up on the Internet, remember what Shrek really represented and what the film series was ultimately about. It was a message of hope, inclusiveness and individuality that was loved by audiences everywhere.