Cinderella, the Gingerbread Man, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Three Little Pigs. These are all enduring fairy-tales that have been passed down for generations, but there is only one series of movies that can be watched which blends all of these tales, along with many others, into an incredible masterpiece of ogres, princesses, witches, and talking donkeys: Shrek! Shrek emerged onto the scene of American culture in 2001 and has since risen to become the dominant fairy-tale of not just a generation, but of an epoch in American history. Shrek entertains and touches the hearts of an audience of all ages: children love it, teens are humored by it, and sometimes adults enjoy it more than anybody else due to the extraordinary number of pop references the writers of Shrek managed to incorporate into all four films. This Hub is devoted to giving a brief overview of why Shrek has captured the imaginations of millions, as well as, give glimpses into what the Shrek movies say about 21st Century American culture.
The Shrek Merchandise
1. Brilliant Mixing of Fairy-Tales and Characters
One of the most beautiful and attractive aspects of the Shrek films is the creative twists it adds to the traditional fairy-tales of The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. Ogres are the good guys, princesses become warriors in Shrek 3, Fairy God-Mother is a fraud and villain in Shrek 2, and Prince Charming does not get the girl. Many other fairy-tales are presented in an unorthodox fashion, but even the many that are presented in their traditional fashion, such as Pinocchio, are given a new personality. The interaction and adventures that all of these characters share breathes new life into some old fairy-tales that many of us may have forgotten about. As Brian Tallerico says in his blog, “This is the beauty of Shrek - re-telling the world’s most classic fables with the wit and sarcasm of twenty-first century comedies.” The changes make us laugh and smile, but somehow do not ruin the romantic fairy-tales we were taught when we were younger. Dozens upon dozens of fairy-tales are intertwined in this epic production.
Several Shrek Characters
2. Pop-Cultural References
The Shrek movies have more pop-cultural references than any other movie I have ever watched and potentially more than any movie ever produced. Practically every scene is jammed with references or jokes about the world we live in. This is most apparent in Shrek 2. In this movie, Shrek and company first realize that they are entering the kingdom of Fiona’s parents when they see a Hollywood look-a-like billboard on the side of a hill that reads “Far Far Away.” As they ride into the city, they pass shops and stores such as Star Bucks, Old Knavery, and Burger Prince and throughout the rest of the movie hints are made at stores, movies, songs, and books that are often hard to catch. However, they are not hard to catch because they are well hidden; rather, they are hard to catch because they are coming at the viewer so fast and in such large quantities. The writers of the Shrek films have taken great joy trying to incorporate these references and have even enjoyed placing some that usually only adults would recognize. So if you have ever been watching Shrek and burst out laughing while your child gives you a dumb look quickly followed by a “What's so funny?” you are not alone. The list of pop references is so long that I hope to devote an entire hub to this topic in the future.
3. Cultural Messages
So what does Shrek say about us a culture? Some would frown upon this question as unnecessary or useless, but I believe it is a curious question with positive answers. In brief, Shrek shows the world that though we live in a rapidly changing society we are still enchanted by stories and characters that have existed for hundreds of years; moreover, the movies show us, through Shrek and Fiona, that our world is becoming increasingly skeptical of trusting the appearance of something as a means of determining its beauty, security, and prosperity. Shrek may seem to be an ugly ogre, and Fiona may seem to be pretty during the day, but only when both admit their love for each other is the truth revealed. Deep down Shrek is friendly and can give Fiona the love, security, and emotional prosperity that she needs, and Fiona’s inner beauty shines through when she chooses to look beyond Shrek’s appearance and see into his heart. Shrek sends other messages about the world around us, but these are the dominant two that I have uncovered.
4. Traditionalism in Shrek
Something about the human heart resonates with stories in which good defeats evil, love overcomes, and an unexpected hero saves the day. All of these traditional elements are in the Shrek films. Shrek and company defeat Lord Farquaad, Fairy God-Mother, Prince Charming, and Rumpelstiltsken. Shrek and Fiona are always reunited, and Shrek always rises from the least likely of circumstances to save the day and causes a happily ever after. All of us want this to be true in our own lives…which is why it touches us. Somehow, we all know that good should always triumph and that love should never be obstructed. Furthermore, we all want to be some kind of hero whether in school, to our parents, to our children, to our significant other, or even to a stranger. These three themes permeate all fairy-tales from the old to the new, and I doubt that this tradition will ever change.
Donkey meets Dragon
5. Post-Modernism in Shrek
Diversity and self-actualization, these two post-modern themes are clearly expressed in the Shrek films. What other fairy-tale have you ever heard or watched that had an ogre marry a karate fighting princess who has a father who is really a frog who made a deal with a villainous Fairy God-Mother who just so happened to be the mother of Prince Charming? Stranger yet, what about a story in which a female dragon falls in love with a male talking donkey and gives birth to little flying dragon-like donkey babies. This diversity of characterization and intertwined plot lines largely reflect our world’s diverse global intermixing of cultures, religions, races, ethnic groups, and beliefs. Diversity existed in the past, but the diversity of our world has begun to grow exponentially in the post-modern era.
Self-Actualization refers to the idea that a person decides and realizes who they are with time and trial. In the movies, Shrek and Fiona both undergo internal and external changes that they themselves choose to make when they realize who they truly are and what they truly want. This is a clear post-modern theme that I hope to elaborate on in another hub on Shrek.
Shrek and Crew Happily Ever After
Happily Ever After
With the Shrek films coming to close with Shrek 4ever After, it is already clear how large of an impact Shrek has had on society. Animated films include more pop-references and end of the movie musical numbers than ever before, Broadway has made Shrek into a Broadway musical, the power of fairy-tales has been redefined, and adults have realized that perhaps fairy-tales are not just for kids. It will take time to know for certain, but I believe that I am fairly safe in saying that Shrek will be remembered as a classic and an important monument of twenty-first century entertainment.
- DREAMWORKS ANIMATION
Official Site of DREAMWORKS ANIMATION
- What the Shrek was that?
Article about pop-references in Shrek
Shrek Pop-Reference Quiz
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- As Shrek and Fiona enter the kingdom of Far Far Away what coffee shop do they pass?
- Medieval Mocha
- What does Donkey say the Fairy-Godmothers factory is?
- the old torture chamber
- his old barn
- the old Keebler place
- none of the above
- When Prince Charming opens the curtain of Fiona's old bed chamber at the beginning of Shrek 2, what is the wolf reading?
- Meat Meat Meat
- The Pack Leader
- Rolling Stone
- Pork Illustrated
- What ladies underwear is Pinnochio wearing in Shrek 2?
- What famous American show is a special feature at the end of Shrek 2?
- America's Got Talent
- American Idol
- the old Keebler place
- Pork Illustrated
- American Idol
jacqueline on June 12, 2015:
the pied piper is my favorite character of shrek! (forever after). he needs his own movie!, it would freaking hilarious and amazing!. please dreamworks do it for us all Who love him!.
Shasta Matova from USA on April 29, 2012:
Great analysis of the movie Shrek, Jarrod. I agree that it is a tale that will be a classic for generations to come. I loved the cultural references and the fairy tale of it all, especially the diversity and the twists and surprises.
Mary Craig from New York on April 29, 2012:
How right you are! Donkey: I just know, before this is over, I'm gonna need a whole lot of serious therapy. Look at my eye twitchin'. Not your normal fairy tale fare. This is a great hub and I hope it leads more people to Shrek and the Shrek movies. Voted up and interesting.
Amber Miller on August 02, 2010:
I never thought of this stuff...great job Jarrod
Butch45 on July 30, 2010:
The best movie in years