Shrek has a serious claim to being the work of art that has had the most influence on me as the first film I ever watched in a cinema. In a way it has inspired a love of and dedication to film that has guided me throughout my life. While most of the films I obsessed about at that age are, to put it mildly, extremely bad, Shrek has remained a favorite, surprising me every few years when I revisit it with just how wonderful it is and inspiring a decade’s worth of meme appreciation and many return visits to the Broadway musical.
So many children’s movies seem to think that, because children aren’t the most discerning of viewers, they can be made with little effort and entirely devoid of any artistic merit and still turn a profit for the studio. Truthfully, they may be right. A funny looking character or an earworm of a song can get a kid to proclaim some truly horrid film their favorite and rewatch it constantly. But that thinking, while financially sound for the investing backers, ignores that children rarely go to the movies themselves and instead always bring along parents who tend to care a little more about the quality of film they’re watching. One of the greatest things about Shrek is that it realized children’s films aren’t only watched by children. Like many of the other greatest animated films, it has a timeless and compelling story, but goes beyond and also gets into more risqué territory with some of its jokes. It leaves most children completely in the dark about why their parents are having such a laugh at the film and gives them some value on a later in life rewatch but immediately delights them with fairytale characters.
Shrek has taken on such a life beyond the original movie, from a slew of sequels to Broadway shows to theme park rides to truly excessive amounts of weird merchandise (seriously, who needed a playdoh version of Shrek’s teeth or swamp flavored toothpaste?) to the internet sensation of Shrek memes, it can be easy to forget where it all began as a fairytale with a sweet message. For all that Shrek is a thoroughly entertaining film with laughs a minute, that message is really what makes it the most appealing. Coming on the heels of decades of those Disney princess movies (and preceding at least two more decades of them), it was terribly refreshing to have a film that said sometimes Prince Charming is a fat, bald dude and the perfect princess doesn’t have to be a thin blonde bombshell. Everyone deserves their fairytale ending, even if that fairytale is more the type with donkeys making waffles than the version Walt Disney would approve of.
I think even when I was a kid, I knew I would soon end up a fat, bald, ogrelike guy, and I appreciated that at least one film had a character like that who wasn’t solely for comic relief but who had a story of his own and a happy ending to boot. Now that I’m fully into that territory (apart from the Scottish accent, a work in progress), for all the talk of change, films with leads like that remain somewhat rare and Shrek has even more resonance along those lines. There are quite a few childhood favorites that failed to age gracefully, and of course a few more that I do still enjoy, but very few managed to age like Shrek and continue to hold further insights and discoveries into adulthood. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself awake into the wee hours of the night, discussing the minutiae of Shrek with a director friend of mine who I’ve worked with as a producer. Perhaps I can eventually push that influence of Shrek beyond initiating me into cinematic exhibition and make it a more direct influence on our next film and bring this saga full circle.