Over Labour Day weekend, I watched the Shrek movie series for the first time. I will readily admit that I enjoyed them: engaging storylines, very funny scenes, and some great one-liners. For those of you who have not seen the movies, the following is the basic storyline (spoiler alert). Shrek is an ogre who lives a solitary life in his swamp eating disgusting things, taking mud baths, and farting excessively. A likeable, although rough, character, Shrek is forced out of his beloved swamp to go on a quest to rescue the princess Fiona from her dragon-guarded tower. Along the way, Shrek is joined by a smart aleck talking donkey, imaginatively named Donkey. Together, they manage to rescue the princess, not by slaying the female dragon, but through Donkey’s wooing of her – the dragon and donkey become a couple. After the rescue, they discover that the princess is cursed; by day she is a beautiful human princess, but by night she is a hideous ogre. Only true love’s first kiss can break the spell. She ends up falling in love with and then kissing Shrek, thus breaking the spell. However, instead of choosing the permanent form of a human princess, Fiona chooses the permanent form of an ogress and marries Shrek. This angers the Fairy Godmother, who had an agreement with the king that her son, Prince Charming, would be the one to rescue and marry Fiona. Prince Charming is portrayed as a dislikable, useless, mother-dominated fop, and his mother as evil and conniving, as they try (and fail) to come between Shrek and Fiona. The king himself is none too happy about having an ogre as a son-in-law, yet he comes to terms with the situation and accepts Shrek before he dies. With the king’s death, the kingdom passes to Shrek, but he just wants return to his primitive life in the swamp. So Shrek seeks out and finds the only other possible heir, Arthur Pendragon, a snotty, maladjusted teenager who is picked on by his entire high school, and sets him on the throne instead. Thus released from his responsibilities, Shrek finally returns to his swamp, disgusting cuisine, mud baths, and excessive farting with Fiona and their brood of three children. Throughout the series of movies, emotional love is held up as the only guiding standard for morality and conduct.
As has been discussed previously on this site, fairy tales and folklore are much more than simple stories. They are organic expressions of a people which function as a vehicle to pass history, wisdom, values, and ideals down through the generations. Fairy tales hold up heroes as role models and create a shared national heritage. Fairy tales are generally viewed as the purview of the very young, but this is because it is during the early impressible years of life that it is most important for these stories to be heard. The fairy tales told to us as young children help shape our values and worldview in a very real way. It is in this light that we should see European fairy tales, stories of chivalry, King Arthur, and the bold knight slaying the dragon and rescuing the princess. Old European fairy tales are especially great due to the fact that most them originate from a time in which the culture was thoroughly saturated with Christianity and are thus imbibed with Christian morality. They are more than mere stories.
We must thus view Shrek as a kind of anti-fairy tale in which all the old European values and ideals are twisted and turned on their head. This really should not come as a surprise, considering that the author of the book on which the movies were based, William Steig, is a member of a certain Middle Eastern tribe with a very pronounced hatred of old European culture and Christian morality, and with a love for twisting and perverting Western culture. Aside from the not-so-subtle miscegenation and anything-is-okay-as-long-as-you-do-it-for-“love” attitude, the biggest thing that bothered me about the movies was that the ideals were completely backwards. Man should strive to materially better himself, and beauty is something to be admired and desired. In the second movie, Shrek and Fiona have the opportunity to become human, a handsome prince and a beautiful princess, and to become king and queen later; but they reject that option and choose instead to remain as hideous ogres and return to the swamp. Throughout Scripture, wealth and beauty are presented as positive attributes, as long as they are not idols. God Himself is described as beautiful (for example, Psalm 27:4), and prosperity is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19), while ugliness and poverty are portrayed as punishments by God. Thus to hold up intentional ugliness and poverty as an ideal to be aspired to, as the Shrek movies do, is a violation of Isaiah 5:20. Many of us are not born to castles or great physical beauty, but the Christian mandate to be good stewards of our gifts means that we should strive to better ourselves, not degrade ourselves or stagnate. We should certainly be content in the estate God has placed us, but the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 makes it quite clear what God thinks about people who do not use His gifts to their best advantage regardless of the level of their estate. If born in the swamp, we should aim for the castle, not be content to wallow in the mud.
The turning of things on their head is something of a necessity in good humor, and so I would still maintain that older teenagers and above can get some good recreational humor out of the Shrek movies, as I did. Additionally, the movies can be a good opportunity for parents to discuss worldview issues and miscegenation with teenage children. However, due to the values and ideals promoted in the films, the Shrek movies most definitely stand apart from the true fairy tale genre and are inappropriate for young children.