Weve seen them all, all of those fairy tales with the same plots, same themes, and same happily ever after endings. And then you see Shrek, and your perspective on fairy tales changes. You notice that this movie is not exactly your average fairy tale. While the story line is much the same as countless others, there are some major differences that completely alter the meaning of the words fairy tale. So, does Shrek teach the same lesson as most other fairy tales, or is it saying something different?
Disney movies are known for happy endings and teaching lessons. Though there is nothing wrong with that, it seems that the makers of Shrek are very much anti-Disney. There is countless evidence of this throughout the movie. The very beginning of the movie makes fun of the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, a movie that starts off with a fairy tale book about a princess trapped in a castle which is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. Sound familiar? It should, but the difference between Sleeping Beauty and Shrek is that while Sleeping Beauty goes into the story after this introduction, Shrek (Mike Myers) tears out a page of this book and uses it to wipe himself.
This anti-Disney sentiment is carried on throughout the movie. Disney World itself is mocked by Shreks portrayal of Duloc, the kingdom of Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). When Shrek and Donkey (Eddie Murphy) arrive, we see a sign in the parking lot that says You are parked in Lancelot, mimicking the same types of signs you see in Disney lots. Once they get past the entrance, we find that Duloc actually looks a lot like Disney. The information center is a song that sounds much like Its a Small World, a famous Disney tune, and the souvenir shop in Duloc reminds us of those you see in Disney World, where you can buy several different sizes of Mickey Mouse dolls. These mockeries seem to imply that Disney takes things too far and are excessive in the way they handle things.
Later, we see that Lord Farquaad had found the Magic Mirror, a character from the Disney movie Snow White, only in Shrek we find the mirror making a game show out of the choosing of a princess. He shows Snow White and Cinderella, and the whole ordeal makes fun of both characters. Even later, when Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is out singing in the forest, Shrek manages to, once again, mock another Disney movie, only this time it is Sleeping Beauty that is the brunt of the joke. When Fiona sings her high note, the bird that has joined in with her explodes. These instances seem to imply that the female characters in Disney movies are portrayed as too perfect and proper, especially when compared to Princess Fiona.
Besides happy endings and teaching lessons, Disney movies are also famous for many musical interludes throughout their movies. An interesting fact about Shrek is that there is only one musical interlude in the entire movie. That interlude was the song and dance by Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Here again you can feel the anti-Disney sentiment, because all of these tights-wearing men get the crap beaten out of them by a girl, perhaps implying to the viewers that men that wear tights and sing songs are sissies.
Shrek is not your typical fairy tale. While you can sense a similar story line, there are many major differences between Shrek and your average fairy tale or Disney movie. As a matter of fact, Shrek himself just is not fairy tale-like. The whole movie celebrates vulgarity. The opening credits are your first clue that the movie will be strewn with it. Shrek uses the pages of the fairy tale book to wipe himself in the bathroom. He takes a mud bath, during which he swallows and spits the mud. He uses bug excretions as toothpaste. His farting in a pond kills fish, and so sets the standard of cleanliness for the rest of the movie. The reason this is odd is because you simply dont see it much in other movies, or at least not to the extent to which it is taken in Shrek. Shrek himself speaks with a Scottish accent, something that is associated with crudeness because of the stereotype given to Scottish people that they are vulgar, crude and impolite. It was surely no acci!
dent that the makers of Shrek had Mike Myers use his Scottish accent for Shreks voice.
As the movie goes on, more vulgarity and crudeness dominate. Unlike other animated movies, there are actually some blatant (and some subtle) sexual references, something most people wouldnt expect from a childrens movie. This pattern continues, as Shrek turns the tournament with the knights into a professional wrestling match, something that is not considered classy. While on their journey, Donkey urinates on their fire to put it out. Shrek tells the princess as he is rescuing her, I have to save my ass. When Shrek looks at the stars, he sees things like the ogre that could spit across three wheat fields and the flatulent. Even the princess is offensive, burping and fighting and eating wild rats. She even fries up the eggs of the bird she made explode.
All of this vulgarity poses the question, Why? What does the movie accomplish by being crude?
We can see that while Shrek is vulgar, it still follows a similar storyline to other fairy tales. As a matter of fact, it seems to be a revered version of Beauty and the Beast. In that movie, the ugly creature is cultured. He lives in a magnificent castle with a huge library full of books, and he seems to be an intelligent being. The girl in Beauty and the Beast is beautiful and proper; we certainly never find her burping or fighting. But in the end, a spell is broken (and it must be noted that the spell in Beauty and the Beast is similar to that of Fionas spell in Shrek in the sense that both spells make the victim ugly until they find true love), the beast becomes beautiful, and the pretty guy gets the pretty girl. On the other hand, in Shrek, the spell is broken, the beautiful girl becomes ugly, and the ugly guy gets the ugly girl. We can see the similar storylines here, as well as the same message, which seems to be, Dont make judgments based on appearances. But the two stories attempt to get their messages across in two different ways. We might also do well to compare these movies to the recent comedy to hit the theatres, Shallow Hal, in which a guy has a spell put on him by Tony Robbins that makes him see inner beauty rather than what people really look like. He falls in love with an extremely large woman, believing her to be a beautiful girl (Gwyneth Paltrow). When the spell is removed, he loves her regardless and stays with her. In this case, the normal guy gets the ugly girl. Seeing the differences? So which way of saying that appearances dont matter is the most effective way of getting through to the audience?
If the movies seem to be telling the same story, why does Shrek seem to be so anti-Disney? What do the makers of Shrek feel is wrong with Disney? Apparently, they seem to believe that Disneys way of saying Dont make judgments based on appearances is wrong, that making the beast beautiful to behold in the end might be telling children that beauty is important for happiness, and for getting girls. In Shrek and Shallow Hal, the stories end with ugliness. The messages are the same, but perhaps the makers of Shrek thought it would be more effective and more encouraging for children to end with all ugliness rather than all beauty.
So, to answer the original question, it seems Shrek does teach the same lessons and morals as other fairy tales and Disney movies. The approach the makers of Shrek took may seem a bit unorthodox, but the message is the same and it is clear. Despite the fact that the movie makes a mockery of Disney, it is apparent that those involved with the making of Shrek have the same good intentions as any other fairy tale writer.
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