Summary: Shrek is directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, and is based on the children’s book by William Steig. This is an astonishing, delightful computer animation, and it’s no surprise that the film took five years to make.


2001, PDI/Dreamwork

Director: Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

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Shrek is directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, and is based on the children’s book by William Steig. This is an astonishing, delightful computer animation, and it’s no surprise that the film took five years to make.

At the very start, we are introduced to Lord Farquaad. He is a small man with a big head - an authority figure who ranks low on the scales of integrity and bravery. This contemptible Lord lives in Duluc, a sterile and manufactured ‘reality’.

He has ordered all the ‘misfit fairy-tale’ creatures to leave his realm, and they have been forced to re-locate in a solitary swamp. The problem is, the swamp is home to a green ogre, who lives all alone in the middle of it.

He has made his home in the base of a large, broken tree. The tree is a symbol of Shrek himself: a giant with a broken heart. Shrek has isolated himself in his swamp. He has built layers around his heart, like those of an onion.

His frightening appearance has resulted in people judging and rejecting him without ever getting to know him. As a consequence, he doesn’t want to get to know anyone else - especially all the creatures who have invaded his space. So, in an attempt to get rid of them and regain his solitude, Shrek agrees to go on a quest for Lord Farquaad, in return for the removal of his new, unwanted neighbours.

His mission is to rescue the lovely Princess Fiona from a castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, so that she can marry Farquaad, who can then become king. A loyal, talkative donkey accompanies Shrek. And donkeys, as it happens, are symbolic of humility, patience and burden bearers.

A story in the Bible’s Old Testament also contains a donkey who finds he can speak, and who promptly rebukes the spiritual blindness of its master (Numbers 22.27-33). This is exactly what Shrek’s donkey does - he speaks words of wisdom and words of rebuke. ‘Friends forgive one another,’ he tells Shrek. He’s certainly no ass...

In fact, the donkey doesn’t judge by outward appearance, and he brings the best out of everyone, including the fire-breathing dragon. The love and friendship nurtured by the donkey are able, in the end, to set both Shrek and Princess Fiona free from the ‘Kingdom of Self.’

Shrek is released from his swamp of rejection and Princess Fiona is released from her stronghold of fear. They ride off to live happily ever after in an onion coach. Only the proud, selfish Lord Farquaad remains unaffected.

The underlying themes in Shrek all question our traditional ideas of beauty. We have been brought up in a world dominated by beautiful pop-stars, glamorous actresses and striking supermodels. In the eyes of our all-pervasive media, those who are beautiful seem to have it all. And as sad and superficial as this may sound, this view is actually fairly traditional.

Indeed, fairy tales present a similar theme: the beautiful princess, after initial obstacles, marries her Prince Charming in shining armour and they live happily ever after. Of course, these wonderful ideals appeal to us all; every man would like to be the hero, while most women have dreamed of becoming the beautiful princess.

Sometimes (even subconsciously) our perceptions of beauty are driven by how we imagine they could be in an ideal fairy-tale world. In order to help us question these deeply rooted ideas, Shrek wonderfully turns the idea of fairy-tale on its head. On the surface, the film has all the elements of the archetypal story: a beautiful princess, a fire-breathing dragon and a scary green ogre. It even opens with the classic storybook beginning.

However, things are not always as they seem. Lord Farquaad is not your typical villain - he’s short, for a start. Princess Fiona is not a fairy-tale princess: besides turning into an ogre every night at sunset, she proves more than capable of rescuing herself; and among other things, she burps, and she sings so piercingly that she causes a bluebird to explode. The dragon doesn’t get slain, and turns out to be a ‘good girl’. The ogre, in turn, becomes the ‘knight in shining armour’ and the object of the princess’s affection.

The many parodies serve to prove the moral of the tale - that the beautiful story does not have to be conventional. In line with the rest of the film, at the end, Shrek and Fiona are not transformed into a picture-perfect couple. Instead, they remain as they are. The point is, Shrek and Fiona are beautiful despite their appearance, and their story is a confirmation that happy endings do not rely on beautiful exteriors.

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