Shrek is celebrating its 20th birthday in 2021 and, apparently, not everyone is happy about it. In the Guardian this week, Scott Tobias decided to write a diatribe against the animated film that has captured the attention of millennials and beyond. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the film has achieved cult status and is still a very strong component of meme culture. Yet, according to Tobias, it’s not worth it in the slightest. He seemingly has nothing good to say about it. So, we have to ask, how did everyone get it so wrong? Why is he the only one who can see the DreamWorks animation for what is really is? Or rather, we should be asking, what exactly happened to Scott that means he is so against fun? And what exactly was he expecting from a film about an Ogre that’s based on a fairly crude picture book?
Shrek isn’t your average fairy tale but it fully embraces everything fairy tales are about. Yes, out hero may not be handsome or kind. He may be angry, slightly selfish and rude. But, the basics are all there. He goes on a journey and the story ends with a happily ever after. It’s got everything you need with plenty of fun stuff to keep you occupied. So, I really don’t see why Scott Tobias has such a vendetta against it. And his criticism is, frankly, insane.
Shrek is a terrible movie. It’s not funny. It looks awful. It would influence many unfunny, awful-looking computer-animated comedies that copied its formula of glib self-reference and sickly sweet sentimentality. Three of those terrible movies were sequels to Shrek and one was a spin-off with a sequel in the works.
First off, whilst the 3rd and 4th films in the Shrek franchise aren’t exactly wonderful, the sequel is definitely the best film of the series. It’s such an amazingly well made and well judged film. So, the idea that the sequels were “terrible movies” was Tobias’ first major misstep.
Then there’s the fact that he describes the film as an “unfunny, awful-looking” animation. Animation has come along way and, I admit, Pixar were doing fantastic things at the time Shrek came out. However, Shrek doesn’t look bad. It holds up now and I think it’s a fantastic antidote to the perfect worlds that Disney always creates. Shrek has captured so many people’s imagination for this very reason. It took the tired trope of a handsome prince rescuing the princess and turned it on its head. It showed a generation that looks and traditional ideas weren’t all that important. Shrek openly challenges and mocks Disney with everything it does and that gives it real likability.
Yes, it’s childish and immature. It relies a lot on toilet humour but so what? It’s a children’s film. Children like toilet humour. Children are immature. And, you know what? Plenty of older viewers like it too. Although, that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of jokes for older audience members as well. This is a film packed with references and in-jokes. It has more risqué jokes hidden in there for the adults for good measure. It walks the line of good taste but always manages to pull itself back before going too far. This is a well-written and very clever film. Not many animated films can provide quite so much for everyone who’s watching it but Shrek manages to do it all. And without feeling bloated and long. It is fast-paced and entertaining throughout. There’s no low point. It’s all highs.
Yes, its unsophisticated and Mike Meyers’ accents are as ropey as ever. But that’s the point, no? This is a story about an unconventional hero and it’s told in an unconventional way. Disney have been making the same polished and polite children’s film for decades so why wouldn’t DreamWorks come long and do something so different. It stood out and people clearly loved it. And let’s be honest, the studio did plenty of worse things during that time period. For them, Shrek was a fucking masterpiece and Shrek 2 was their equivalent of Oscar worthy. Regardless of how these films stand on technical terms, if you can’t find even an ounce of joy in watching a grumpy Ogre fall in love with a princess the there’s no hope left for you.