The Shrek movies: The rise and fall of the jolly green ogre

The Shrek movies made quite a splash for Dreamworks back in the day with their own unique spins on the fairy tale stories and characters. And these days they’ve been associated with several Internet memes. Unfortunately, even at its best I can’t find myself enjoying Shrek on the same level such as the Toy Story trilogy or other great Pixar movies. The sad truth is eventually the quality of the Shrek movies took a giant tumble downhill and despite their best attempts to return to glory, lost their luster and eventually faded into obscurity. So what better to do than take a look at each one? 

Shrek

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. It had no shortage of low brow humor which really held it back. The whole misunderstanding thing when Fiona’s curse is revealed is a cliché I really hate. But with that being said it established a nice and fun fairytale world and a good array of charming characters. I do wish though we got to see more of the fairy tale world expanded though as most of the movie’s second act is just Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey traveling. With that being said its moral about true beauty being within was delivered in a very unique and clever way. It was a big hit critically and financially so naturally it would make sense to make a sequel. 

Shrek 2

Sure enough we got Shrek 2 three years later. 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 change his appearance to make Fiona happy (based on what he read in her diary about her being in love with Prince Charming). 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 the setting does amazing to expand on the fairy tale world from the last movie such as having a bar where all the villains hang out called the Poison Apple. 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 more heartwarming. The sound track is amazing to listen to and does well to add feeling and energy to just about every moment. Add it together with a colorful animation and one hell of a climax and you’ve got the recipe for success. 

Shrek the Third

Sadly Shrek 2 was as good as it got. Shrek the Third was released three years later and it was a giant step backward both on its own and coming off the heels of two great movies before it. The story involved Shrek going off to find the heir to the throne named Arthur after the King dies. Meanwhile it is revealed Fiona is pregnant leaving Shrek worried about the prospect of becoming a father while Charming teams up with the villains from the Poison Apple to take over Far Far Away. 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.  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 and Charming’s team of villains but none of them are given any depth or personality. Arthur and his former wizard teacher Merlin get a couple of laughs through the voice acting. 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. 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. And the whole message lacks any kind of subtlety that made the previous Shrek movies so heartwarming. Like when Arthur and Shrek are having a heart to heart just comes off as cheesy. Donkey and Puss switching bodies was a plot point that just felt like an excuse for these two to have something to do beyond being just Shrek’s companions. Sometimes it does hit some heartfelt 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 but overall so much of the magic so much of the funny of Shrek is missing from this movie.  

Shrek Forever After

Three years later we got the fourth and final Shrek movie to date. And…it was better than the last one but it was hardly enough to make a comeback for the jolly green ogre. The story involves Shrek being 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 gets really predictable fast. However Rumplestiltskin is a far better villain than Prince Charming and his fast talking ways were somewhat endearing. The alternate versions of characters we know did kind of get the occasional laugh. However the new characters like Rumple’s witches and the Ogre Resistance members (seriously what happened to these guys in the original world) are 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 Fairy Godmother, Charming (could have shown his remains to acknowledge he existed) if he ever rescued her, or even Lord Farquaad. And while I understand they couldn’t bring back Justin Timberlake as 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 and showed that it was time for the green ogre to retire.  

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 with a whimper but sometimes it’s for the best.