Film Reviews: Shrek Movies 1-4
Shrek is the story of a huge, green ogre trying to make it in an ogre-unfriendly world. At first, he just wants to live alone in his swamp and be left in peace. But eventually, he learns the value of friendship and love. Over the course of four movies, Shrek has undergone a lot of exciting adventures and learned something about himself each time.
For sequels, the subsequent Shrek movies have a quality rivaling that of the original. Through them, Shrek navigates life as a "good" ogre, deals with love and family issues, and also becomes a father. Throughout all of this, he seems to struggle with his own ogre nature a lot. He wants to be taken seriously, but his world is full of people who see him as someone who "used to be an ogre". Each continuation of this story has been very good, in my opinion.
But which Shrek movie is the fairest of them all?
Shrek (The First One)
Shrek: You were expecting prince charming?
Fiona: Um, actually, yes.
This movie knocks classic Western tropes having to do with fairy tales, princesses, knights, and all that good stuff. While this is nothing new, considering that it was in Don Quixote, what it's attacking specifically is the Disney fairytale.
In this movie, Lord Farquaad wants to rule a kingdom by marrying a princess. Obsessed with perfection, he's forced classical fairy tale creatures and people (The three blind mice, three little pigs, the wolf from Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, etc.) to the margins of society, making them live on a swamp.
This inspires outrage in the swamp's owner, Shrek (voiced by Mike Meyers), an ogre whose main hobby is terrorizing the villagers. Shrek just wants to be left alone and get rid of these squatters. He runs into an annoying talking Donkey (voiced by Eddy Murphy), whom he teams up with to go deal with Farquaad.
He finds the guy in the midst of a tournament he's throwing to see which knight in his service will be entrusted with the task of rescuing the princess of his choice, Princess Fiona, who lives in a tall tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. While Shrek is no knight, his ogre strength makes him capable of easily fighting all of Farquaad's men, resulting in Farquaad making a deal with him: rescue Fiona, and you get your land back the way it was.
Determined to be ogre-ly ever after, he goes on a quest to rescue the princess, but she's not all she seems, and a romance blooms that can look past outward appearances.
Though in my opinion, the plot relies on a miscommunication that seems like a stretch, the movie is enjoyable, and, when it came out, it wowed audiences by being different from your typical fairy-tale kids' movie. Indeed, it seemed when this came out that there was hope that "fun for the whole family" was actually back. That is, the kind of story that enchants a five-year-old but contains humor and themes that an adult can also relate to. Shrek does this well.
"I know what every princess needs for her to live life happily..." - Fairy Godmother
Shrek 2 is about Shrek meeting Fiona's parents after marrying her, and realizing they aren't exactly expecting an ogre for a son-in-law. And, he's not exactly thrilled to be in Far Far Away, a place where he doesn't think he'll fit in, either.
And Prince Charming is pissed. His mother, Fairy Godmother, convinces the king to hire a hit on Shrek so that her peeved son, who tried to rescue Fiona and got there too late, can marry Fiona instead.
It doesn't seem to occur to them that Fiona's curse being lifted already means Shrek is her true love, and ogre is her permanent form now, but that stuff hardly matters to Prince Charming, who only wants to marry Fiona so he can be king (deja vu, those are also exactly Farquaad's intentions).
Charming and the Fairy Godmother also appear to be genre savvy, thinking that for a princess to live "Happily Ever After" she has to marry a prince, not an ogre. That's just the way things are done in fairy tales, after all. From Fairy Godmother's prodding, Fiona's dad goes to a seedy tavern to find a hit man to kill Shrek, so that Fiona can marry Prince Charming instead.
Who do you pay to kill an ogre?
Puss in Boots, none other, in this movie he's adorable and voiced by Antonio Banderas. After defeating Puss, Shrek, and Donkey befriend him, and go on a quest. They have to win over Fiona's family, save Fiona, who gets herself imprisoned by furniture (enchanted furniture, but still, wasn't she supposed to kick ass or something? Did they forget?), and save the kingdom from, um, a really vain guy ruling it. Or something. Ok, it's not about justice as much as it's about Shrek getting the girl. And getting her parents to see him as worthy of her.
Shrek in this one uses the help of his infestation of fairy tale things that he used to think of as an annoyance. I guess they've sort of grown on him, but it's kind of weird too for him to be friends with the things he worked so hard to kick off his swamp in the last movie. But, they help him save the day and get the girl, which probably earns them Shrek's friendship.
When I first saw this one, I liked it... enough. It was entertaining and funny, and had many good visual effects, mostly involving The Fairy Godmother, that I liked. This one deals with the same themes as the first movie, and I think that was my real problem with it. It's still talking about how society treats people differently based on appearances.The problem is, the movie still judges that most beautiful people are evil, stupid, and vain based on their appearances.
The best things about this movie were the performances of Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, and Jennifer Saunders as the Fairy Godmother. Fairy Godmother was an interesting villain, because from her point of view, getting Fiona to dump Shrek for her son, Prince Charming, is what's best for Fiona, what she must truly want. That's why she is able to manipulate Fiona's parents to such an extent. She's not entirely selfish in her motivations, she just does not see how a princess could truly be happy not married to a handsome prince.
My favorite part is probably the last third, when the movie has an exciting finale. The beginning scenes, with the long road trip gag and the awkwardness of Shrek's initial meeting with the king and queen, meh. Those felt more uncomfortable than anything else.
Shrek the Third
"It's not my life I'm worried about ruining. It's the kid's." - Shrek
When frog-king dad-in-law is sick, Fiona and Shrek have to take over some of his royal duties, and things don't go very well. Then things go from bad to worse when he dies, after saying that only Shrek or one other living male heir could be king after him. Shrek knows he wouldn't make a great king, and he just wants a peaceful, quiet life back at the swamp, so he goes out in search of "Arthur", the only other eligible male in the family.
Then, as he's taking off for his journey, Fiona announces she's pregnant. Shrek is less than happy with this, because he worries that ogres don't make loving and nurturing parents. Meanwhile, a humiliated Prince Charming gets together a band of fairy tale villains to try to seize power while Shrek is absent. Shrek has to bond with the outcast, awkward teen "Arty", and get him to go back to Far, Far, Away in time to save the kingdom.
This movie keeps the same villain, Prince Charming, as the second movie. However, the lesson of this movie is less about how others react to Shrek, and more about how he sees himself. He lacks self-confidence because of his appearance, which makes him doubt whether he can become king.
Similarly, Arthur has a lot of his own self-doubt too. It's about the difficulty of having confidence in a world that treats you like crap. It's also about the adult fear of taking on the responsibilities of parenthood, and on Fiona's side of things, the fear that parenthood will get in the way of still having a great marriage. You know going into this that Charming is going to lose, but the focus is placed instead more on the emotional development of the characters.
While I liked this movie all right, it's mostly just OK. The humor left me groaning or rolling my eyes more often than actually laughing. But even if the humor wasn't that great, I did enjoy the story, and the more serious moments in this film.
Shrek Forever After
Shrek: You know, I always thought I'd rescued you from the Dragon's Keep.
Princess Fiona: You did.
Shrek: No. It was you who rescued me.
In this Shrek movie, Rumpelstiltskin is the villain. He uses his trickery, and contracts that are unlikely to hold up in real courtrooms, to basically rewrite reality to take over the kingdom.
How he does this is simple; Shrek is fed up with his kids, the responsibilities of parenting, and the horrors of being a celebrity with, let's just say, an introverted personality. This makes him ripe prey for Rumpelstiltskin. By making Shrek wish he could just take a vacation from his life, he doesn't realize that he's actually being tricked into giving up his whole existence.
In a world where Shrek was never born, see, the king and queen of Far, Far, Away would eventually have gotten tired after the umpteenth knight failed to rescue their daughter from the dragon, and would have signed their kingdom over to Rumpelstiltskin in exchange for Fiona back safely.
However, knowing that his kingdom could be threatened by the reemergence of Shrek, or the kickass toughness of Fiona-as-ogre, he puts high bounties on all ogres, but especially Shrek. Thus, in this alternate world where Shrek was never born, Fiona is the leader of a sort of underground resistance movement of ogres. (She eventually rescued herself from the dragon, but doing so gave her a cynical outlook.)
Shrek is transported into this world by the magic (even though he technically doesn't exist?) of Rumpelstiltskin, where he meets a fierce, independent Fiona who doesn't know him. He joins her ogre resistance movement, takes on Rumpelstiltskin, and learns a lesson about appreciating what you have. And also about not signing contracts without a lawyer present.
I like this movie mostly for the lesson, that sometimes we don't know what we have until it's gone, so we need to appreciate it. I know it's been done before, but It's A Wonderful Life didn't quite have as many dragons and witches, so I'd rather see this version of an age-old lesson. It's probably got one of the sweetest lessons and most moving endings outside of the first one. Visually, I think this is also one of the coolest Shrek movies.
Basically, I think this is the best Shrek movie after the first one, meaning I rank them like so:
- Shrek Forever After
- Shrek 2
- Shrek the Third
What about you? Which Shrek movie is your personal favorite?