Believe it or not, Shrek has been around for over 20 years, and in that time it’s become a cultural phenomenon. There are those who would seek to tarnish Shrek’s reputation, but they are just bitter naysayers. The fact is, Shrek is a cinematic masterpiece, and here’s why:
Let’s start with the music, because every track in the entire movie is pure fire. Not only do the tracks perfectly capture the mood of the scenes they’re used in, but they’re also so much fun to listen to. Pretty much any song used in the movie is instantly recognisable as being in Shrek. If you heard it on the radio, you’d be like “oh cool, that’s the song from Shrek,” and there are very few movies that provide that immediate connotation with their soundtrack.
Right from the opening tune of Smash Mouth’s All Star, you know this is going to be a movie that’ll suck you in and captivate your every moment. Who doesn’t get nostalgic when they hear I’m A Believer? Usually movies have at least one song where you kinda wish the scene would hurry up and be over because you’re sick of hearing it, but not Shrek. Each and every note is perfect, and that’s a rarity that speaks to the timeless perfection that Dreamworks created.
Strong Plot and Perfect Pacing
Because Shrek is so perfect in so many ways, it would be easy to get hung up on the details, and forget that even outside of its many strengths, it’s also got a fantastic plot that deserves to be praised on its own merit. The story makes a lot of sense within the world that Shrek establishes, and each element flows seamlessly into the next. Lord Farquaad wants a perfect kingdom free of fairy tale creatures, which leads to Shrek getting involved, which leads to an epic quest, which leads to an epic romance, which leads to a heart-warming resolution.
It takes your classic fairy tale, and then turns the idea on its head. The monster becomes the hero, and the princess and the monster fall in love. The audience is taken on an adventure from scene to scene, and there’s never any lull. The pacing is superb throughout; you never once feel bored, or like a plot point isn’t developed enough. Every scene is the exact length it should be, no more, no less.
Teaches Not to Judge a Book by its Cover
Aside from being an entertaining movie to watch, Shrek also contains some valuable and powerful lessons about how to treat others. We see this big green ogre, who’s outwardly quite intimidating, and then we realise that he’s actually nuanced and sensitive once you get to know him. We learn that despite his looks, he has a heart of gold, and he cares a lot more than he lets on.
Meanwhile, Lord Farquaad wears fancy clothes, has this big, elegant castle, and makes Duloc as perfect and clean as he can, but inside he’s rotten to the core. He tortures Gingerbread Man, exiles the fairy tale creatures, and tries to have Shrek and Donkey killed. It shows that just because someone appears to have it all, it doesn’t make them a good person.
Shows That Happiness Comes From Within
So many movies resolve by having the heroes find wealth and riches, but not Shrek. Instead, this movie shows that happiness isn’t about materialism, but that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. We see Lord Farquaad with his perfect castle in Duloc, and he’s still not happy, he always wants more. Meanwhile Shrek lives in a run-down hut by a swamp, and is content with what he has in life. However, this doesn’t mean he’s not capable of growth, and throughout the movie he discovers the power of friendship.
The biggest indicator of how happiness isn’t always straightforward, though, is Fiona. She’s a literal princess. She’s beautiful, and full of hope that one day her Prince Charming will rescue her. She grew up with dreams of fancy castles, and elegance, and dresses. Lord Farquaad could have given her all that. But instead, she falls for Shrek. The ogre who eats bugs and rodents, and lives amongst dirt. And when she takes love’s true form, it’s not as a gorgeous, skinny princess, instead, it’s as an ogre who defies societal beauty standards. Because that’s the form that grants her true happiness, that’s the form that gives her a happily ever after with Shrek.
Launched a Successful Sequel
Not only was Shrek incredibly entertaining in its own right, but it’s one of very few movies to launch a sequel that was not only as popular, but actually surpassed the original. When Shrek 2 debuted, it came crashing into 6th on the highest grossing movies of all time list. It made even more money than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was also released that year. In fact, Shrek 2 was the number one highest grossing movie of 2004.
The reason Shrek 2 was so highly anticipated, and performed so well from the get go, was because people had seen what a fantastic movie the first Shrek was, and had come to expect greatness from the franchise. And rightfully so, because Shrek 2 retained everything that made the first movie great, whilst also being recognisable as its own distinct story. That I Need A Hero montage near the end is honestly one of my favourite movie moments of all time, and I doubt I’m alone on this.
Whilst Shrek 3 and 4 weren’t quite as good as the first 2, they were still decent movies, and Shrek the Halls has cemented itself as a Christmas staple in many homes. Shrek is a household name, despite being a previously unheard of franchise directed by 2 debut directors who had no previous experience of making movies of that scale. By all means, Shrek could have faded into nothingness, but instead it launched a movie empire that is beloved by children and adults alike.
Attention to Detail
Shrek is a movie that really cares about setting the scene, and creating a vivid picture of the world. Take the opening scene, for example. Every little thing is thought of, from the fact that Shrek uses an outhouse rather than a traditional toilet, down to him squeezing the juice out of bugs to brush his teeth. They go hard on the gross factor early to desensitise the audience, and to establish Shrek’s character so that later on we can focus on the plot without being continually surprised by his ogre-ish tendencies.
A great deal of effort is made to have details be consistent from scene to scene. For example, at the end, we see Gingerbread Man using a candy cane as a walking stick, with one leg gone, and one leg patched together with icing. That’s because back in the torture scene, Lord Farquaad crumbled one of the legs into dust, whilst the other remained intact, so was able to be reattached. We also see Baby Bear crying in the swamp whilst his father comforts him, and later on we see that Mother Bear has been killed and turned into a rug in Lord Farquaad’s castle.
It also goes heavy on the references, both to Disney and to other movies. Duloc is very clearly based on Disneyland, with the roped queue area to get inside, the souvenir merchandise in the shop windows, and the cutesy photo booth. We see many Disney characters throughout the course of the movie, and it’s interesting how they interact with the main characters, such as Tinkerbell spilling pixie dust on Donkey when she’s knocked over near the start of the movie, or the fairies from Sleeping Beauty adorning Shrek with a cloak made of flowers. There’s also an exaggerated reference to the Matrix when Robin Hood attempts to kidnap Fiona, and she adjusts her hair whilst mid-jump. All the little details really give Shrek the extra charm that makes it such a brilliant movie.
It’s So Meme-able
Because Shrek made such an impression on the public, and is so recognisable in its characters and style, it made it the perfect candidate for many a meme. And let’s face it, memes are the peak of internet culture, one of the true marvels of the 21st century. It’s a beautiful example of connectivity that strangers from all around the world can come together to make amusing captions and references to the same thing, evolving as more people get involved. Putting Shrek’s face on anything makes that thing automatically hilarious, and I love that. There are so many memorable lines from just the first movie alone, and the internet is richer for it.
It’s Just Perfect
Honestly, there are so many things I could write to show off what a great movie Shrek is, but I feel like I’ve made my point. Shrek is truly a delight, and the fact that it holds up even 20 years later just speaks to the timelessness of its excellence. I stand by my initial statement – Shrek is a cinematic masterpiece. If you love Shrek too, why not test your knowledge in The Ultimate Shrek Quiz!