The Shrek movies were phenomenal successes when they came out. And today have been associated with several Internet memes. You would think with such a following the Shrek movies would be on par with such animation behemoths such as the Toy Story trilogy or other great Pixar movies but you’d be wrong. The sad truth is eventually the Shrek movies took a giant tumble downhill and despite their best attempts to return to glory lost their luster. For starters, the animation while good didn’t change as the movies went on but the main problem was in its storytelling in which it is best to tackle in each individual movie.
The first Shrek movie was released in 2001. It involved the title ogre having his swamp invaded by several fairy tale creatures thanks to their exile by the villainous Lord Farquaad of Duloc who wants to be a real king by rescuing and marrying the lovely Princess Fiona from a castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. In an attempt to make a deal, Farquaad offers Shrek his swamp back if he does the job for him. Fiona is not pleased upon being rescued by an ogre but as they make their way to Duloc they fall in love. Little does anyone know that Fiona has her own dark secret. Despite some lowbrow humor, it gave and established itself as a new spin on the usual fairy tale (and Disney) tropes. And it’s moral about true beauty being within was delivered in a very unique and clever way. It was a big hit critically and financially and naturally, it would make sense to make a sequel.
Shrek 2 was released in 2004. In it Shrek and Fiona now permanently ogres travel to Fiona’s home kingdom of Far Far Away to meet her parents in order to get their blessing. Her parents, however, are shocked to see that their daughter is not only still and permanently an ogre but also married one as well. The king, in particular, is not pleased with this and sends a hit man to kill Shrek named Puss in Boots. But Shrek, wanting to make his wife happy by any means possible drinks a magic potion to turn them into humans. Meanwhile, an evil Fairy Godmother who is also displeased with Shrek and Fiona’s union plots to have her son Prince Charming marry Fiona and become king. This sequel is probably one of Dreamworks’ best. The new characters (the king, the queen, Puss in Boots, the Fairy Godmother and her son, her henchmen, etc.) all add a great deal of comedy and are well developed. The Fairy Godmother herself is an excellent contrast to the Shrek franchise known for its new spin on fairy tale tropes as opposed to the traditional fairy tale story. The dynamic between Shrek and Fiona is also very emotional and relatable in just how much they gave up for their marriage and are willing to go for one another. This makes their resolution at the end all the better. It also continues with the fairy tale spinning such as having a bar where all the villains hang out called the Poison Apple. The soundtrack is an earworm through and through. Add it together with a colorful animation and you’ve got the recipe for success.
Sadly Shrek 2 was as good as it got. Shrek the Third was released in 2007 and it was a giant step backward. The story is Shrek going off to find the heir to the thronenamed Arthur after the King dies. Its problem from the get-go was having only half the duo of the last movie by having Prince Charming as the villain. It also had too much going on in it with none of the plots fully tying together. You have the death of the king, Shrek having to go off and find the heir to the throne, Charming’s evil plan, and Shrek worried about becoming a father. The king’s death itself is done in a very insulting manner for someone who was very developed in the last movie. Also, Shrek movies’ ability to twist fairy tale mythos in a very pop culture manner seems to have lost a sense of direction. Arthur’s character is obviously a reference to the story King Arthur of Camelot (right down to having characters like Lancelot and Guinevere). Like the second Shrek movie, it does introduce some new characters including the princesses but none of them are given any depth or personality. Arthur and his former wizard teacher Merlin get a couple of laughs through their performances. However, the story has him going to a high school, which doesn’t seem to make much sense. The movie also seems to insert humor at the worst possible times. The lowbrow humor particularly stands out in this movie. Sometimes it does hit some heartwarming notes with the King and Shrek’s final moments and Shrek’s friends ensuring him they will be there to help him through his fatherhood. However, the movie has no real conflict outside of Shrek’s concern of being a father. They try to establish a father-son relationship between him and Arthur but it feels forced.
In the fourth and final Shrek movie to date Shrek Forever After, which came out in 2010, Shrek is tired of his new life as a father and a celebrity and no longer feels like the scary ogre he once was. After a huge blow-up at his kids’ birthday party, he meets Rumplestiltskin who tricks him into giving up the day he was born in exchange for one day to feel like a real ogre. However, all of his friends and his wife have suffered miserably because of this and Rumplestiltskin has become king. He only has that one day to get Fiona to fall in love with him and receive true love’s kiss before the new reality becomes permanent and he will fade from it. The whole story is basically It’s a Wonderful Life, which really felt like the writers were running out of ideas and it becomes very predictable because of it. Rumplestiltskin himself is a good villain and making him this sleazy fast talker was a smart move (in a way he kind of reminds me of Hades from Disney’s Hercules). The other characters aren’t really given that much background prior to the alternate world but seeing them in the alternate world is fun. They tried to add new characters like the witches who work for Rumple and the ogres from the resistance but they feel forgettable. Another problem was Shrek’s blow-up at the party, which results in him smashing his kid’s birthday cake and angrily ranting to his wife that he wishes he’d never rescued her. Even by Shrek standards, this is a pretty mean-spirited scene. Finally, the movie seems to have inconsistencies in its own franchise. When Rumple changed everything there’s no mention of what’s become of the FairyGodmother, Charming, or even Lord Farquaad. And while I understand they couldn’t bring back Justin Timberlake at Arthur he neither has a background appearance nor is even mentioned. All in all, while it’s not as bad as the third movie it fails to measure up to the standards that the first two set.
Despite there being plans for Shrek 5 there has been nothing of what to do with it. However, it’s for the best as the Shrek movies sadly lost the effect they one have. The third movie really took away its appeal and the fourth didn’t kill it but it couldn’t bring that appeal back. It’s sad to see a franchise end but sometimes it’s for the best.