When Shrek first released in 2001, I was still in High School. This was the period of time where I really started to get into movies and Shrek was one that always floated in the back of my mind as a film that helped define that era for me. Looking back on it, the story still resonates as one that focuses on what it takes for someone to truly be in love. How love can take many forms, romantic friendship or otherwise, is the main driving force for the story itself even though it doesn’t always seem that way with the comedy front and center.
Performing admirably in the theaters at the time, making $484 million worldwide on a reported $60 million budget alone makes it a hit in the studio’s eyes. But when you add the academy award nomination for adapted screenplay and being rated fresh on rotten tomatoes, it’s a true critical success. Looking back at it now, the animation itself does look dated. And with the main cast of Mike Myers as the titular Shrek; Eddie Murphy as Donkey, Shrek’s traveling buddy; Cameron Diaz as the damsel in distress, Princess Fiona; and John Lithgow as the antagonist Lord Farquaad, this film really is a product of its time.
When watching it recently, I was surprised to see the soundtrack that was in this film. The opening uses Smash Mouth’s All Star to set a stage that mixes comedy for both adults and children perfectly. The movie also uses I’m a Believer during the end scene. While this song was originally written by Neil Diamond and recorded by The Monkees in 1966, I’m a Believer was covered by Smash Mouth for the soundtrack of Shrek. But it is not this cover that ends up being used for the final scene and, instead, the movie features Eddie Murphy as Donkey singing the song to wrap up the film.
The last song I want to mention for its tone setting is Bad Reputation by Joan Jett. This song is played during Shrek’s first meeting with Lord Farquaad. While I’m not really a fan of this song, it is used as a background track where Shrek really lives up to what Lord Farquaad thinks of him. In that aspect, this song is a perfect fit for the scene in which Shrek beats up numerous knights in continuously humorous and interesting ways. This is another spot of the movie that shows it’s a product of its time. This scene has Shrek pulling off pro wrestling moves inside a horse pen that looks exactly what a pro wrestling ring would look like back in Medieval times and, to be honest, it’s a fun romp where Bad Reputation fits perfectly.
Besides the pro wrestling reference I mentioned beforehand, Shrek is full of pop culture and fairy tale references. The most numerous references go out to movies, giving shout-outs to everything from Babe to The Matrix and A Christmas Carol to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These are done not only with visual cues but also in lines plucked directly from other films. Most of the pop culture references are used for laughs like using The Matrix’s bullet time or the dragon that guards Fiona’s tower acting like the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park.
The fairy tale references are even more numerous than the pop culture ones. This really shouldn’t be a surprise as the premise of Shrek revolves around a basic fairy tale story. When you take a look at it though, there are numerous background characters that are pulled directly from famous fairy tales. Throughout the film, we see everyone from Pinocchio to the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Three Bears to Cinderella. And one former secondary character from a classic fairy tale makes an appearance that is major to the plot.
All of the references hit me in some way and there was not a single one that made me think they were overdone. There was a moment where Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes played during a scene with Fiona that I thought was a reference to another Cameron Diaz movie The Sweetest Thing. Turns out I was wrong as The Sweetest Thing released after Shrek but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film. Some might think that the references are a bit heavy handed but I’m not one within that group. For me, the references help the film more than hinder it.
The comedy might be a bit dated for today’s audience but it still hits for me. While there are a good number of adult jokes, take Lord Farquaad’s name, for instance, there are multiple ones that children will understand and laugh at, as well. Overall, I enjoyed Shrek and laughed more than I’d like to admit. I don’t see anything that should turn away a younger audience, and this is a film I would recommend for the whole family.