It all started for me back in 2001 when I first saw Shrek and thought it was pretty funny. Particularly Eddie Murphy as Donkey made me laugh and since I wasn’t high on Disney then the parody of Disney films was funny. With anticipation I got it on vhs eager to repeat my positive experience, but to my surprise when I watched it again I realized- it wasn’t that funny any more.
Truly great comedies I can watch again and again laughing with each watch. For example, Monty Python and the Holy Grail I have seen I can’t tell you how many times and I still laugh. Even other parody films like Airplane! still make me laugh. From way back in 2001 that was never the case for me with Shrek.
And unfortunately when you take out the humor there isn’t that much going for it. The animation isn’t that great. Some of the voice work is shoddy (cough Cameron Diaz cough) and the story is actually pretty pedestrian and predictable.
Now that you all hate me let’s talk more about the movie.
Shrek is about an ogre in a fairytale land who likes living in his swamp by himself. One day he gets besieged by fairytale characters that have been evicted from the land by the evil Lord Farquaad. In order to get rid of said characters Shrek makes a deal that if he can rescue the Princess Fiona then he will clear his land.
Shrek goes on the quest with a sidekick donkey who drives him crazy but they put up with each other and they find her pretty quickly. Then the Princess and Shrek form a bond and she it turns out has a curse where she turns into an ogre every night. She must be kissed by her true love to break the spell. Fortunately at the end Shrek storms the castle and admits his love and she ends up remaining an ogre as her truest form.
I don’t know if you noticed reading that description that even with all its parody Shrek follows the basic princess movie formula perfectly. You have the damsel in distress that is rescued, cooky sidekick, evil villain, forced marriage, dramatic declaration of love and the breaking of a curse. I think this is why the jokes really aren’t that funny on rewatch because the story surrounding the jokes all becomes rote quite quickly. Real humor that lasts isn’t just parodying things of the moment but they tap into universal truths and themes any age can relate to. Again to use Monty Python as an example, their skits and movies will be funny for generations because they aren’t merely parodying but they are making fun of timeless institutions like marriage, love, warfare, sex, sports, and more.
The funniest scene in Shrek that still gets a laugh out of me is the gingerbread interrogation. This is because it is making fun of torture and torture scenes in movies we still often see today and it was separate from the more pedestrian narrative. It feels more surprising and relevant than the other humor.
As more of an adult, I also notice things that make me a little uncomfortable in Shrek like Snow White being described as “not easy”, Robin Hood making a joke about he likes to get laid, and Shrek teasing Lord Farquaad about his size and “do you think maybe he is compensating for something”. I hate that kind of humor in fairytales marketed to children.
I like Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Mike Meyers is fine but as I hinted at earlier Cameron Diaz is not a strong vocal performer. Her line readings sound the same whether she is happy, sad, angry, whatever. I really wish they had gone with a professional voice actress.
Other issues with the movie is the soundtrack. It has not aged well. Using pop music of the era by Smash Mouth and others immediately dates the movie. It would have been so much funnier if they had used the music to parody the Disney musical. This seems like such an obvious choice it is kind of baffling. Plus, the oddly sober choice of ‘Hallelujah’ thrown into the film does not fit at all.
The animation in Shrek is fine for 2001 but it is nowhere near the quality of Monsters Inc from Pixar that yea. In that film, Sully’s fur was so lush and vibrant and the world building still feels fresh and fun. There is no scene, for example, in Shrek that mirrors in animation quality the scene racing through the doors at the end of Monsters Inc. Not even close.
I also resent Shrek because I feel its success has really hurt animation. Ever since it became a phenomenon we have so many movies that put humor ahead of story, caring more about cheap cultural references and celebrity voice casting than crafting real art. Imagine in an alternate world if Prince of Egypt had been the Dreamworks’ film to really take off? Animation would be in a much better state than it currently is.
Oh what might have been…
Overall Grade- C-