Shrek: A Cultural Icon

Shrek, a name that will forever be etched into our memory as one of the most popular children’s movies of the early 2000s. Whether you remember it as such, or just the product of a bunch of strange memes and joke videos, Shrek won’t be forgotten. But why is this?

DreamWorks has created a number of hits during the past two decades, including How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, and Kung Fu Panda. But Shrek, along with all of its sequels surpassed all of these hits by millions, and won the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Since the last sequel came out in 2010, popular culture has taken control, resulting in numerous plights such as “Shrek Retold”, a complete retelling of the movie with submissions from more than 200 artists who recreated scenes in their own style, “Shrek Fest”, an annual Shrek-themed festival held in Madison, Wisconsin, and of course (my favorite) the Broadway musical! (Which is filmed professionally and on Netflix so WATCH IT NOW!)

I don’t think the creators of Shrek intended it to be perceived at the capacity it is being perceived today. That being said, I’ve decided to dig into a few potential causes of its exploding popularity.

First off, you’ve gotta admit, that soundtrack is BOMB.

I mean, seriously, what could be more iconic than this opening sequence starting with Shrek kicking open the door to his outhouse to “All Star” by Smashmouth?

And of course, this dazzling performance?

There are many more sequences throughout the four films that go together so nicely with the songs that were chosen for them, that naturally, if you hear one of them on the radio, you can’t help but think of Shrek.

The soundtrack for Shrek was so good, that even those popular songs such as “All Star” and “I’m a Believer” performed by Smashmouth started generating attention in the form of memes and joke videos. Also, on the Shrek 2 DVD, there’s a special feature called Far Far Away Idol with Simon Cowell? And Puss (Antonio Banderas) got to sing “These Boots Were Made For Walking?” Sorry for all these excessive question marks, but I’m still surprised that this feature exists. But more seriously, Shrek took songs that were modern, and well-known, such as “I Need a Hero” and “Hallelujah” and combined them with excellent sequences to make them memorable and relatable to us. Which brings me to my next point.

Shrek made fairytales cool!

Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge fan of fairytales before I watched Shrek, so it wasn’t a stretch to get me to enjoy them. After all, I did grow up watching Disney.

But if you ever get a chance to read the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault, or watch some of the older, classic Disney movies that were made when Walt Disney himself was still alive… you have to admit they’re kind of strange, extremely outdated, and repetitive.

For the time they were written and/or developed, these stories did resonate with their audiences, but with Shrek, it’s refreshing to see these same characters in different settings, or sometimes with updated personalities.

In typical fairytales, the “ugly” people, such as the ugly stepsisters and stepmother in Cinderella, were always the villains, and the “attractive” people, such as Cinderella and the prince, were good. In fact, in several versions of these tales, ogres were the villains in the story, playing the evil, cannibalistic monsters with no control over their appetites.

This is touched upon later in Shrek movies where the village people run away from him because they believe ogres to be cannibals. But the movie makes it clear that this idea is ridiculous, especially when Shrek tells the frightened Duloc kingdom guard multiple times that he’s not going to eat him. But that doesn’t stop him from occasionally using this fear to his advantage when he wants to be left alone.

Shrek openly rejected these fairytale clichés that we’ve been reading and watching all this time. Ugly people now can be good, pretty people can be bad, princesses aren’t damsels, Prince Charming is now a snotty douche-bag.

And characters who were so over-dramatized originally, are now chill, bit characters who have the occasional one-liner.

But most importantly, Shrek stayed true to its plotline.

For all the silliness that it is, Shrek made it clear that the rules can be changed. Everyone, no matter who you are or where you come, is deserving of love no matter what the books say. Throughout the rest of the movies, Shrek deals with his insecurities about marriage, becoming a king, and being a parent, which are normal issues for a person to have. Ogres in fairytales never had the option to deal with these issues and still be seen as a real person with real feelings, although Shrek isn’t physically human. But in the fairytale world, puppets, pigs, wolves, humans, gingerbread people, donkeys, fairies, and ogres are all on the same standing, and Shrek makes sure that message is clear throughout. I’m not saying that Shrek is perfect. I mean, it thwarts so many classic clichés that that in itself is becoming a cliché, and personally, I don’t think the sequels are that impressive. However, it has sure struck a chord among this generation and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.